Stroke Recovery: Steps and Care Tips

A stroke results when the supply of blood to your brain is cut off due to damaged blood vessels or blood clots. It can lead to significant impairment of cognition, language, sensory and motor skills. Due to this, stroke is considered a leading cause of severe disability in the long-term. You may take years recovering from stroke and it requires hard work, patience and commitment. Recovery starts after condition becomes stable. Starting the process of recovery as soon as possible increases the chances of regaining the affected functions of body and brain.

Stroke Recovery Process

Initial time required for recovery: The first stage of recovery starts around 24-48 hours post stroke, when you are still hospitalized. Since, majority of the strokes damage an individual’s ability for independent movement, your physician will encourage you to change positions, do complete ROM (range-of-motion) exercises, and depending on your stroke’s severity, stand or walk around the room of the hospital. Some patients suffering from stroke become significantly mobile in the initial few days post stroke.

Time required for Intensive Rehabilitation: The initial stage of rehabilitation from stroke are intensive and may last for around 5-6 weeks. During this period, you will undergo outpatient or inpatient therapy, depending on your physical condition and how close you live to a rehabilitation center. You will have physical therapy, sessions with physicians and tests for 5-6 days every week. You may also opt for in-home physical therapy sessions, which are expensive and more suitable for elderly patients who live far away from the rehab center.

Time required for long-term recovery: Although to predict how much time you may take in the long-term stroke recovery process is difficult, majority of the improvement will occur in the initial 6 months. You may continue to show improvement even after six months if you have great support from your family, friends and physicians.

How Does the Recovery of Brain Occur After Stroke?

Recovery from stroke requires commitment and patience. Scientists don’t exactly know how brain recovers after stroke; however, they have certain possible explanations of how rehabilitation of brain occurs.

It is suggested by both anecdotal evidence and research that brain functions post stroke by producing a change in the way different tasks are done. If the flow of blood to the area affected in the brain during stroke is restored, some damaged brain cells may resume functioning. Moreover, another area of brain may start performing functions that were performed by the damaged area.

How to Recover from Stroke

No set timeline exists for stroke recovery process. Some individuals go through rehabilitation and resume usual activities in few months, whereas others may require one year or more and regain only partial functioning. Here are certain ways to speed up the process of recovery:

  • Emotional support: Encouragement and support are vital while recovering from stroke; hence, spending some quality time with friends and family such as talking, playing games or watching TV together is important and speed up the recovery process.
  • Embrace rehab: Starting rehab as early as the physician recommends is among the best methods to regain functioning. It improves both physical and mental functioning.
  • Devices: Supportive devices are very helpful as they assist you with activities such as getting dressed, eating and walking. Some of the options are fixed grab bars, cups that have special handles and raised toilets.
  • Thoughtful Communication: Because strokes may lead to difficulties in communication, family members should be clear and slow while communicating with a patient with stroke. It helps to encourage patients to speak and maintain eye contact while speaking with them.
  • Psychologists: Stroke patients may experience psychological symptoms such as depression, frustration or aggression for which help from a psychologist may be required.
  • Treadmill: According to studies, walking on treadmill improves the walking efficiency in patients with stroke, thereby augmenting the stroke recovery process. Their aerobic capacity also improves while using a treadmill.
  • Games: According to research, video games including the Nintendo Wii, may help in augmenting the recovery process of stroke victims. Some doctors in the USA now recommend Nintendo Wii to patients to help them regain movement in arm and leg.
  • Meditation: Different types of meditation reduce symptoms of fatigue, tiredness and depression and improve attention and information processing and regulate emotion.
  • Diet: A nutritious and healthy diet can provide your brain and body the energy it requires to recover.
  • Sleep: According to research, sleep helps in improving movement post stroke by converting short term memories of rehab session into long term memories. Hence, the more stroke patients sleep, the better is the opportunity for their brains to recover.

Various compensation techniques also exist that may be helpful. These are techniques that help a patient with stroke adapt to deficits they may have. For instance, a cane can compensate for balance impairment or a Kindle can compensate for reading and holding a book.

Falls are very common post stroke; hence don’t ignore them. If a fall results in bruising, bleeding or severe pain visit an emergency room for treatment. If you experience minor falls without any injury greater than 2 times within a time span of 6 months, visit your doctor or physical therapist.

Make Adjustments to Your Plan of Treatment Periodically

Stroke recovery produces major gains in the initial 3-4 months post stroke. But many individuals continue to show improvement months later. Keep a check of your progress and adjust your recovery plan if required. You may get benefit from different types of therapies as your condition gets better.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Discuss with your physician about the situations or symptoms that require a visit to them. However, if you see any of the below mentioned signs or symptoms of stroke, immediately call 911. Every single minute counts; hence, never delay to prevent damage due to stroke.

  • Sudden paralysis, weakness, or numbness particularly on one side of the body
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of coordination or balance or problems while walking
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Slurred speech or drooling
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or confusion or understanding speech
  • A severe, sudden headache, which is different from previous headaches or there is no known cause to it

Am I at Risk of Getting a Second Stroke?

The risk of getting a second stroke is greatest immediately post a stroke. 3% of survivors get a second one in the initial 30 days and 1/3rd has another one within 2 years.

However, risk factors are highly variable in different individuals. Therefore, it is important to discuss with your physician about the risk factors specific to you and form a plan to counter them.

Hypertension is the greatest risk factor of stroke and most important cause of it. Suffering from high levels of blood cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes also increases your risk. Various lifestyle factors which increase your risks, are obesity, smoking cigarettes, excessive consumption of alcohol, sedentary life, and using illicit drug.