How to recover from a stroke

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Knowing what lies on the road ahead can ease the stress

Thousands of Americans suffer strokes every year. Although there are risk factors that contribute to stroke, the reality is that almost anyone can suffer a stroke – at any age.

A stroke is a “brain attack” and is the result of a loss of blood flow to a part of the brain. The loss of blood flow can be the result of a clot – referred to as an ischemic stroke, or a broken blood vessel in the brain – referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke. In either case, time is the critical element. The sooner blood flow is restored, the less damage is done to the brain, and the better the recovery will be.

While stroke treatment may last only hours, stroke recovery can be a much longer process, lasting weeks, months, or even years.

Stroke patients may initially begin their recovery in a hospital and then may either be discharged to home, or to a rehab facility where they can receive treatment. Subacute facilities are able to provide a medically focused environment in which stroke patients can be monitored as well as supported throughout their rehabilitation process.

The effects of a stroke

Different parts of the brain control different parts of the body and different cognitive functions, so where the blood loss occurred will determine the physical, mental, or emotional impairments. Some of the more challenging effects include:

  • Paralysis (inability to move some parts of the body), weakness, on one or both sides of the body
  • Trouble with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory
  • Problems understanding or forming speech
  • Trouble controlling or expressing emotions
  • Numbness or strange sensations
  • Trouble with chewing and swallowing
  • Problems with bladder and bowel control
  • Depression

“After a stroke, the body has forgotten how to do simple tasks, but keep in mind, that the more you are able to push yourself in the beginning, the more you are taking advantage of the initial six months that are so critical for your outlook, and your quality of life,” said Dennis Ng, corporate director for Rehabilitation Services at Elderwood. “The goal for patients and their loved ones, is for the stroke survivor to leave rehab with the most independence possible.”

Rehabilitation for stroke recovery

Ng also indicated that patients should set goals for themselves and work with their therapists to achieve those goals. Because the affects of stroke can be so wide ranging, rehab for stroke recovery must also be wide ranging. Rehab can include working with speech, physical, and occupational therapists.

  • Speech therapy helps people who have problems producing or understanding speech.
  • Physical therapy uses exercises to help patients relearn movement and coordination skills that may have been lost because of the stroke.
  • Occupational therapy focuses on improving daily activities, such as eating, drinking, dressing, bathing, reading, and writing.

Therapy and medicine may help with depression or other mental health conditions following a stroke. Patient support groups often help stroke survivors and their families/caregivers adjust to life after a stroke.

Sometimes recovery is more limited

When the stroke is severe, the extent of recovery may be limited and there may be a need for a long-term care solution for the patient. The severity of the stroke and the resulting disabilities are a big indicator of whether or not long-term care is needed. The understanding that caregiving can get more difficult as the family member gets older is equally important. So is the family’s willingness and ability to care for the ailing family member.

Even in cases where stroke patients require long-term care, rehab therapy is important. In these cases, however therapy is less restorative and more focused on symptom relief. Stroke survivors in long-term care may deal with several chronic stroke side effects, including spasticity, a condition that can cause arm and leg muscles to cramp or spasm. This post-stroke condition makes daily activities such as bathing, eating and dressing more difficult. Spasticity can cause long periods of strong contractions in major muscle groups, causing painful muscle spasms. Therapy and medications help relieve these symptoms.

It’s important to remember that, although the immediate aftermath of a stroke presents a challenging and scary outlook for patients, effective therapy and an understanding of what the road to recovery looks like will help reduce anxiety and improve motivation.

Learn more about individualized therapy and rehabilitation options here.