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Stroke

Recovering From A Stroke

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 16:50

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Many people begin to recover from a stroke almost immediately after it has occurred.

The recovery process is most rapid in the first three months after a stroke, but improvement will continue for six months or a year. Many stroke survivors report that they slowly continue to regain function for years after their brain attack. It is very important not to lose hope.

Everyone's recovery is different, but some general rules hold true. Simple skills will be recovered first:

  • The ability to sit up and balance while sitting, then
  • The ability to stand, and then
  • The ability to walk.
  • The leg usually starts to improve before the hand.

Some people will notice that "things do not work so well" when they are tired or get a minor illness such as a cold. For example, a person's speech may get more hesitant toward the end of a busy day, or the person may become more unsteady after the flu. These ups and downs are to be expected and are not a sign that another stroke is about to occur.

The Importance Of Rehabilitation Therapy

Successful recovery after a stroke depends on the extent of brain damage, the person's attitude, the skill of the medical team, and the cooperation of family and friends. Not all people recover on their own. For them, rehabilitation therapy can be invaluable.

Rehabilitation can teach new skills to replace old skills that may have been lost. It involves teaching other areas of the brain to take over the work of the damaged portions.

One of the first rules of successful rehabilitation is that it must begin as soon after a stroke as possible. Therefore, it usually starts in the hospital and is continued as long as necessary after the person goes home. The goal of therapy is to improve function so that the person who has had a stroke can become as independent as possible.

Nice To Know:

Rehabilitation - teaching an individual certain skills that might have been lost - can consist of one or more of the following:

  • Physical therapy - Teaches walking, sitting, and lying down, switching from one type of movement to another.
  • Occupational therapy - To relearn eating, drinking, swallowing, dressing, bathing, cooking, reading, writing, toileting.
  • Speech therapy - To relearn language and communication skills.
  • Psychological/psychiatric therapy - To help relieve some mental and emotional problems.

Depending on the severity of the stroke, rehabilitation options include:

  • A rehabilitation unit in the hospital
  • A subacute care unit
  • A rehabilitation hospital
  • Home therapy
  • Home with outpatient therapy
  • A long-term care facility that provides therapy and skilled nursing care

Avoiding Another Stroke

Many survivors are afraid that they will have another brain attack. However, with proper medical treatment, it is quite unlikely that a person who has had a stroke will experience another. The risk of a second stroke is higher for people who are not receiving proper medical treatment for their first stroke.

Effective treatment to reduce the risk of another stroke includes making lifestyle changes to decrease risk factors and taking medication, such as aspirin, as directed by a doctor.

Nice To Know:

Q: I had a stroke nearly a year ago, and I still have a strange sensation of pain on my left side. My doctor has tried a variety of drugs, but nothing seems to work. What else can I do?

A: This type of pain, called central post-stroke pain, is uncommon and can be difficult to deal with. There are a variety of medications you can try, including antidepressants and anticonvulsants. You also may want to consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture. Other options include transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS), which is a small device that sends an electrical current to a certain area of the body in order to block the sensation of pain. Surgery to interrupt the nerves that carry this abnormal sensation (stereotactic surgery) also is a possibility, but it does have some risk.

Stroke