Physical Recovery After a Stroke

A stroke is sometimes referred to as a ‘brain attack’ because, like a heart attack, it occurs when your brain suffers from lack of oxygen for a period of time. The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, caused when an artery supplying blood flow and oxygen to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. The part of the brain that is affected by an ischemic stroke is determined by where the blockage has occurred, which is why a stroke can affect each person differently, and to varying degrees.

There are many reasons why a person might be more likely to suffer a stroke, including whether or not an individual exercises regularly, follows a healthy diet and avoids or limits alcohol and smoking. Age and hereditary factors may also increase a person’s risk of stroke, as do certain medical procedures – including heart procedures, such as TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve replacement).

Paving Your Path to Recovery

Stroke survivors and their caregivers face many challenges in working to recover from a stroke. Because a stroke will impact each person differently, the difficulties that each person faces are as unique as the individual. Common changes after a stroke include differences in physical abilities, speech and language problems, emotional or behavioral issues and even differences in vision or cognition.

The good news is that studies have shown that with early and intensive interventions, the brain can learn to compensate for and overcome these changes. Therapeutic exercises geared toward addressing brain injuries can begin once the acute period of stroke recovery has passed.

Areas of recovery after a stroke usually include physical, emotional and cognitive changes. For information on emotional recovery after a stroke, read this post.

Your path to physical recovery from a stroke might include the following interventions:

Physical Therapy

Differences in muscle strength, control and ability are common after a stroke. Physical therapy can help to re-establish the connections between the brain and nervous system, and early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes and reduce long-term disability for people who have experienced a stroke.

Working with a physical therapist in an inpatient, outpatient, or home-based setting, is vital to rebuilding brain-muscle connection and regaining abilities. Activities might include stretching, strength building and coordination or motor skill development.

As with any new skill, it’s important to be patient with yourself as well as to practice consistently to achieve the best possible outcome.

Speech and Language Therapy

Communication and swallowing problems are common after a stroke. In fact, it’s estimated that around one third of people who suffer from a stroke will have some degree of difficulty communicating, at least initially.

Changes in muscle control can make eating, drinking and speaking a challenge. Muscle control and cognitive changes can cause the following activities to be challenging:

  • Swallowing
  • Language comprehension
  • Speaking
  • Reading

A speech and language pathologist (SLP) can help a person to improve or regain these abilities. Speech therapists specialize in exercises that strengthen muscle control and brain connectivity, helping to overcome or minimize difficulties related to eating, drinking and speaking.

Changes in expressive or receptive language can also be assessed and recovery supported by  your SLP. Activities aimed at strengthening word association in the form of games can help rebuild memory and perception.

 Occupational, Vocational or Recreational Therapy

Occupational, vocational or recreational therapy can help individuals to regain independence after a stroke. By supporting their abilities to accomplish everyday tasks with minimal-to-no assistance and helping the person optimize or adapt to differences in strength or mobility, those who have suffered a stroke can return to the activities that bring them happiness and enjoyment.

An occupational therapist can help with basic tasks, such as regaining the ability to feed, dress and care for oneself, and, later on, may support vocational or recreational activities to get the patient back to his or her normal routine and an active, fulfilling life.

Occupational therapy differs from physical therapy in that it is focused on optimizing independence and one’s ability to accomplish his or her daily activities.

Prevention

Remember that individuals who have suffered a stroke do have a higher risk of suffering a second attack, and making lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of stroke is imperative. Incorporating healthy eating habits, exercising at an appropriate level for the individual and maintaining regular doctor’s care will help to reduce the risk of a second attack.

For those whose doctors are recommending heart or valve replacement surgeries, know that there are interventions available to help make these procedures safer. The risk of dislodged plaque and calcium particles, often referred to as embolic debris, reaching the brain during a heart procedure can be minimized with a technique called Protected TAVI™.  Protected TAVI involves using a filter-like device to capture dangerous particles from the blood stream that can potentially travel to the brain causing brain injury such as stroke. Watch this easy-to-follow whiteboard animation to see how the device works.

As medicine continues to advance, and more and more people survive strokes than ever before, it is important to remember that the best possible outcomes are associated with patients receiving early rehabilitation therapies, sometimes as early as 24 hours after a stroke. Remember that gains can happen quickly or over time, and early intervention, persistence and patience are the keys to achieving the best outcomes.

Links:

John Hopkins Medicine. New Hope for Stroke Recovery. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/new-hope-for-stroke-recovery. Accessed on May 2, 2018.

National Stroke Association. Stroke Recovery. Available at: http://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/survivors/stroke-recovery. Accessed on May 2, 2018.

American Stroke Association. 15 Things Caregivers Should Know After a Loved One Has Had a Stroke. Available at:

http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/ForFamilyCaregivers/CaringforYourLovedOne/15-Things-Caregivers-Should-Know-After-a-Loved-One-Has-Had-a-Stroke_UCM_310762_Article.jsp#.WuOnrFMvxTY.  Accessed on May 2, 2018.

Mayo Clinic. Stroke rehabilitation: What to expect as you recover. Available at:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/in-depth/stroke-rehabilitation/art-20045172. Accessed on May 2, 2018

National Institute of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. Available at: https://stroke.nih.gov/materials/rehabilitation.htm. Accessed on May 4, 2018.

Physical Therapy Web. Differences Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. Available at: http://physicaltherapyweb.com/differences-occupational-therapy-physical-therapy/. Accessed on May 4, 2018.