According to the CDC, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 130,000 Americans each year. This is a reality that Patti Austin knows all too well.

“I had the opportunity to take care of my mother after she had a severe stroke,” she says. A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. “My mom was a firecracker; tremendously articulate and exceptionally witty,” Austin recalls. “I watched her health take her down one notch at a time, but I’m so glad that I was there to walk her through it.”

A disappearing act

Caregiving, often described as the most difficult job you never applied for, can cause high levels of emotional, mental and physical stress for both the patient and the caregiver. “It really is like being shot of a cannon.” Austin shares. “You’re witnessing someone you love struggling with their health. You’re seeing them lose abilities that made you love them in the first place — you seem them disappearing and being replaced by someone new.”

After suffering her first stroke, doctors believed that Patti’s mother, Edna, would only live for two months. She went on to live for five more years.

“I had a lot of little selfish moments where I wanted my mommy back,” Austin says. “I realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

Tips and tricks

While grief can be overwhelming, the disruption of everyday life makes the act of caregiving even more challenging. However, lighter moments can make things a little brighter for both parties.

“We would get her all dressed up and take her to the movies, or, if I had a show, she’d come with me,” Austin recalls. “We just kept showing her off and saying, ‘Look how beautiful you are. Look how wonderful you are.’”

“'Don’t think you don’t need to know anything about this because everyone around you is healthy...'”

Being a caregiver takes a toll on a person physically, emotionally and financially. According to the American Society on Aging, 40 percent of caregivers are also raising children and 64 percent work either full- or part-time. Patti’s advice for new caregivers? Do your homework and don’t go it alone.

“Start reading, go online and find a support system,” the singer advises. “Even if they don’t know what you’re going through, you’ll need someone to vent to.” Most jobs are demanding, but few offer the immediate satisfaction of seeing a smile on someone’s face. Caregivers make people’s lives easier, and that makes all the hard work worth it.

“As much as you put into being a caregiver, it always comes back to you in the most amazing ways.”

Marching forward

Today Austin is playing a critical role in creating stroke-aware communities. “Don’t think you don’t need to know anything about this because everyone around you is healthy,” she urges.

“While performing for audiences all around the world and receiving their appreciation and being grateful for it, I often felt alone in caring for my mother all of those years. I spent so much time and money trying to find proper care for her when I traveled to perform. I came across more and more people in the same situation, plagued by a healthcare system and Capital Hill that did not provide financial, nor community, resources to support our sincere caregiving efforts.

“We want to make real changes that will positively affect the lives of caregivers and the loved ones that they support. This is why I encourage all of you to join me and support this petition to Capital Hill.”

Stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. Today Patti is partnering with leading industry advocates to teach families across the country how to prevent, as well as how to recognize, respond to and recover from, a stroke.