We ask patients and families a great many questions, but sometimes we forget to ask one of the most important questions. 

After someone has had a stroke or critical illness, it is the question that rarely gets asked. I practiced medicine for many years until I realized it was one that I also rarely asked, but I needed to make it part of every interview. 

If you’re a healthcare professional, it’s a question you need to ask. 

If you’re a family member, you need to think about it and bring it to the attention of your physician or the people involved in the care of your loved one. We tend to focus on the physical limitations. 

The conversation goes something like this:

Doctor: Is your mom, dad or child acting any different than before their illness or injury?

Family: Now that you mention it, their memory seems a bit off and they are more irritable.

Healthcare providers frequently assume that the patient is “just tired.” They have been in the intensive care unit a long time and assume that they have “ICU-itis” and that they will get better over time. Many healthcare professionals fail to see the connection between changes in cognition/ behavior with changes in the brain as a result of the illness. 

However, when you speak with a family, they may say, “My husband can walk and talk, but he is different. His memory isn’t as good, and his personality is different.” These changes are frequently missed by clinicians who concentrate on the physical aspects and may assume that “since he can walk, talk and eat, we will just give him time to improve.” 

But, who we are as human beings and the relationships that we have with our spouse, children and our family is based a great deal on our behaviors. We need to be certain to ask the question, “Is mom, dad or your son any different?” Make sure that the people taking care of your loved one do an evaluation of their cognition and behavior. This can easily be performed by a speech pathologist or occupational therapist. There are several brief questionnaires and everyone has their favorite. But, the important thing is that they look for the problems and address them.

Remember to ask, “Is Mom any different?”

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