Three Tips for Rehabilitation after a Stroke
A stroke is life changing, and a frightening experience that can create a daunting road to recovery for survivors.
According to the American Stroke Association, strokes are the number two most common cause of death worldwide. The two major types of strokes are ischemic (obstructed blood vessel such as a clot) or hemorrhagic (weakened blood vessel that ruptures). Signs of a stroke include confusion, slurred speech, loss of body movement or sensation, especially on one side of the body.
Who Is At Risk for a Hemorrhagic Stroke?
High blood pressure can lead to strokes, making people age 50 and older more prone to suffering from the condition. Genetic mutations in blood type can also cause strokes if blood clotting issues are common in an individual. Strokes can also happen after a traumatic event, such as a car crash. Over 700,000 people suffer from strokes each year, and around two-thirds of these individuals will survive and require rehabilitation, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
What Does a Stroke Do?
An ischemic stroke causes decrease in blood supply to the brain, and a hemorrhagic stroke causes a bleed leading to a compression of brain fluid. Strokes affect the opposite side of the body from where the stroke occurred in the brain. Immediate surgery by a neurosurgeon can be required for severe hemorrhagic strokes to decrease brain pressure and save brain cells. Common disabilities from a stroke are paralysis, sensory disturbances, issues with understanding or using language, memory problems or emotional disturbances.
Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Tips
While lost brain cells cannot be revived, the brain and body can be retrained to improve functionality after a stroke. Here are a few tips for post-stroke rehabilitation from Adil Shaikh, MD with Avera Medical Group Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation:
Tip No. 1: Trust Your Medical Team and Rehabilitation Plan
“A patient’s trust in their medical team is essential to recovery," said Shaikh. "Avera offers a continuum of care through a care team — including physical medicine and rehabilitation-trained and board-certified doctors, rehab-trained nurses and coordinators, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, community integration therapists, orthotists and prosthetists."
The care team works together to create an individualized recovery plan with physical exercises, daily life function re-establishment, and speech or cognitive exercises.
Therapists work the front lines of recovery hand-in-hand with the patient, helping patients re-achieve physical abilities but also warning against certain physical activities during the rehab process to prevent further injury.
Tip No. 2: Be Patient and Keep Spirits Up
It’s not uncommon for stroke patients to suffer from depression. Doctors and therapists can include mental health professionals like psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors within a stroke patient’s rehabilitation plan.
A typical stroke patient’s stay in a hospital can be several days to a few weeks, and inpatient rehabilitation can take several weeks to a couple months—depending on stroke severity and the health of the patient.
Gains can be incremental or achieved quickly; consistent inpatient rehab quantity and quality ensures success. Long-term, outpatient rehab can go on for years after the stroke, so it’s important to build patience and set achievable goals.
Tip No. 3: Enlist Family and Caregiver Support
The health of the patient before the stroke is the most important factor in rehabilitation success. The second most important factor is patient support. Family and caregivers are crucial to a patient’s recovery, offering stability and familiarity during an uncertain time. Often, stroke patients are motivated by improving their life for loved ones and by receiving their daily encouragement.
“Family is pivotal. Studies have documented that good family support makes a difference in the patient's outcome," said Shaikh. "Initially, we recommend family members give less physical help so patients learn to be as independent as possible. But as they get closer to going home, our therapists are well-trained, and they help family members understand when they should help. We can help your loved ones understand how to aid the patient so the transition is as seamless as possible."