How to recover from a stroke: What are your options?

A key part of stroke recovery in stroke rehabilitation. Learn more about stroke rehabilitation.

Stroke rehabilitation helps you regain skills that you have lost after a stroke. Stroke rehabilitation is a way to regain your independence and improve the quality of your life.

Many factors can affect the severity and ability of each individual to recover from stroke complications. Research has shown that those part of a targeted stroke rehabilitation program does better than most people who aren’t.

What is involved in stroke rehabilitation?

There are many options for stroke rehabilitation. The part of your stroke that has affected you and the type of abilities will determine the rehabilitation plan.

Some physical activities could include:

  • Motor-skill exercise. These exercises will help you improve muscle strength and coordination. Therapy may be offered to improve your swallowing.
  • Mobility training. Learn how to use mobility aids such as a wheelchair, canes, walker or ankle brace. An ankle brace is a device that stabilizes and strengthens your ankle. It can also help support your weight as you learn to walk again.
  • Constraint-induced therapy. An unaffected limb is held while you move the affected limb to improve its function. Sometimes, this therapy is called forced-use therapy.
  • Range of motion therapy. Some exercises and treatments can reduce muscle tension (spasticity) and help you regain your range of motion.

The following technologies could be used to assist with physical activities:

  • Functional electrical stimulation. Electricity can be applied to weak muscles to cause them to contract. You may be able to re-educate your muscles with the help of electrical stimulation.
  • Robotic technology. Robotic devices can aid impaired limbs in performing repetitive motions. This will help the limbs regain strength and function.
  • Wireless technology. An Activity Monitor might be able to help you increase your post-stroke activity.
  • Virtual reality. Interactive use of computer-based therapies and video games.

Cognitive and emotional activities could include:

  • Cognitive disorders therapy. Speech therapy and occupational therapy.
  • Therapy to treat communication disorders. Speech therapy is a way to regain your lost listening, speaking, writing, and comprehension skills.
  • Treatment and psychological evaluation. You might need to be assessed for emotional adjustment. Counseling or participation in a support group might be options.
  • Medication. A doctor may recommend an antidepressant or medication that affects alertness or agitation.

These experimental therapies include:

  • Noninvasive brain stimulation. Techniques like transcranial magnet stimulation have been successfully used in research settings to improve motor skills.
  • Biological therapies, such as stem cells, are under investigation but should not be used in a clinical trial.
  • Alternative medicine. Treatments like massage, acupuncture and oxygen therapy are being evaluated.

When is stroke rehabilitation best?

Stroke rehabilitation is more effective if you start it sooner than later.

Your doctors’ immediate priorities include:

  • Stabilize your medical condition
  • Take control of life-threatening conditions.
  • Stop another stroke
  • Reduce stroke-related complications

Stroke rehabilitation can begin as soon as 24 to 48 hrs after your stroke. This is usually done while you are still in the hospital.

What is the average length of stroke rehabilitation?

Your stroke rehabilitation time will depend on how severe your stroke was and your complications. Some stroke survivors recover quickly. However, most stroke survivors require some long-term stroke rehabilitation. This could be for months or even years.

As you learn new skills and your needs change, your stroke rehabilitation plan will evolve. You can make progress with continued practice.

Is there a place where stroke rehabilitation takes place?

While you are still in hospital, stroke rehabilitation will likely begin. Your family and hospital social workers will help you determine the best rehabilitation environment before leaving. Consider your requirements, insurance coverage, and the most convenient setting for you and your family.

There are many options:

  • Inpatient rehabilitation units. These units can be either standalone or part of larger hospitals or clinics. As part of an intensive rehabilitation program, you can stay in the facility for as long as two to three weeks.
  • Outpatient units. These facilities often form part of a hospital. The facility may be open for a few hours a day.
  • Skilled nursing homes. There are many types of care offered at a nursing home. Some facilities offer rehabilitation services, while others provide less intensive therapy options.
  • Home-based therapy. This allows for greater flexibility than other options. The downside is that you won’t likely have access to the most advanced rehabilitation equipment. Insurance strictly regulates who is eligible for home-based therapy.

Discuss the best options with your family and doctor.

Who is part of your stroke rehabilitation team

There are many specialists involved in stroke rehabilitation.

These specialists can assist with your physical needs:

  • Doctors. Your primary doctor and neurologists or specialists in physical medicine rehabilitation can help you manage your care and prevent any complications. These doctors can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent another stroke.
  • Rehabilitation nurses. Nursing staff trained in the care of people with disabilities can help you integrate the skills you have learned into your daily life. Rehabilitation nurses may also help manage bowel or bladder problems resulting from a stroke.
  • Physical therapists. They help you to regain your ability to walk and balance.
  • Occupational therapy. These therapists can help you regain hand and arm use in daily tasks like washing your hair, dressing your child, and tying your shoes. Occupational therapists are also available to address safety issues in your homes, such as swallowing problems and cognitive issues.

These specialists are experts in cognitive, emotional and vocational skills:

  • Language pathologists and speech therapists. These experts can help you improve your language skills and swallowing ability. Language and speech pathologists can help you develop tools that address memory, thinking, and communication issues.
  • Social workers. These social workers can help you find community resources, connect to financial resources, and plan new living arrangements.
  • Psychologists. These experts assess your thinking abilities and address your mental or emotional health concerns.
  • Specialists in therapeutic recreation. These experts help you resume the activities and roles you had before your stroke.
  • Vocational counselors. They can help you with return-to-work issues if that is your goal.

What factors influence the outcome of stroke rehabilitation treatment?

The speed of stroke recovery will vary from one person to the next. It is difficult to predict the number of abilities and when you will recover. In general, successful stroke rehabilitation depends on:

  • Physical factors include the severity of your stroke, both in terms of cognitive and physical effects.
  • Emotional factors such as motivation and mood can impact your ability to continue therapy activities beyond therapy.
  • Social factors include the support of family and friends.
  • Therapeutic factors include a prompt start to your stroke rehabilitation and the skillful work of your stroke rehabilitation team.

The weeks and months following a stroke are generally when the recovery rate is greatest. Evidence suggests that performance can be improved even after 12-18 months.

It takes time to recover from a stroke.

Recovery from stroke can be frustrating and long. It is normal to encounter difficulties. You will reap the greatest benefits if you are determined and willing to work for improvement.

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