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What’s Normal During Stroke Recovery?

A stroke is a serious medical condition which can occur with little warning. Since it impacts in a vital organ, the brain, it’s no surprise that immediate medical attention is needed to prevent loss of life. After the initial medical event has been stabilized, a new process begins: stroke recovery. The effects of stroke are different for every person, making almost every individual’s stroke timeline for recovery unique. Yet there are still some commonalities that stroke patients and their loved ones should be aware of.

Where and How Strokes Affect People

The location of the stroke within the brain will give you a clue as to what neurological functions will be affected:

  • A right side brain stroke could lead to paralysis on the left side of the body, problems with vision, memory loss and a change in behavior that leaves the person more inquisitive.  
  • A left side brain stroke could lead to right side of the body paralysis, problems with speech and language, memory loss, and a more cautious or fearful behavioral style.

Another consideration is that no matter where the stroke happens, the amount of brain tissue damaged will impact how intensive the therapy must be. Once the physical impact has been assessed by a medical professional, stroke patients and families can begin to consider recovery.

Rehabilitating from a Stroke

Stroke rehabilitation consists of a combination of activities meant to help patients regain normalcy in the affected areas of the body. Rehab can usually begin within 24 to 48 hours after a patient’s condition has stabilized. The Mayo Clinic outlines some of the most common stroke rehab techniques, which include:

  • Physical therapy – This includes re-building motor skills and muscular strength, or range-of-motion therapy which uses exercises to decrease muscle tension and help regain use of affected limbs.
  • Technology-assisted physical therapy – This type of therapy can include use of devices as simple as a cane or walker to more complex technologies for stroke rehabilitation such as robotic devices or mechanical exoskeletons to assist with weight-bearing.
  • Cognitive and emotional therapies – Cognitive rehabilitation involves the use of speech language pathologists and neuropsychologists to help stroke victims regain their memory. Strategies for this type of stroke rehab include using memory notebooks, computer games, puzzles, and thinking games. While memory and cognitive functions can be measurably helped, rehabilitating a stroke victim’s surging emotions can be a little more complex. The American Stroke Association offers tips for recognizing these changes and coping.
  • Experimental therapies – Experimental therapies for stroke can include any number of new techniques being introduced to patients, including a thrombectomy (which removes the blood clot from the vein by running a small catheter through an artery in the groin to the vein and suctioning out the clot), stem cell therapy, and even experimental drugs to aid in stroke recovery.

It is important to remember that stroke rehabilitation is a process, which can, in some cases, last for the rest of a stroke victim’s life.

Preventing Strokes from Reoccurring

In addition to therapy, lifestyle changes are often immediately necessary to help prevent stroke recurrence (1 in 4 of the strokes experienced annually in the U.S. are recurring strokes). Healthy diets can help to reduce stroke risk factors like high cholesterol or blood pressure. Exercise can also combat those same symptoms, as can cutting out tobacco and excess drinking from daily life.

While rehab affects the physical and cognitive needs of a stroke patient, it is also important to address their emotional needs. Personality changes after stroke can occur and, as mentioned above, it is not uncommon for stroke victims to become more impulsive or more apathetic people depending on where in the brain the stroke occurred. This could mean a loss of motivation (“I don’t want to do my therapy”) or reckless decision making (“I want to drive despite the impairment half of my body”).

Stroke recovery statistics show that about 10% of stroke survivors experience a complete recovery meaning the vast majority will have anywhere from minor to major impairments that require therapy. Depending on how arduous the rehab process, emotions like anxiety, anger or depression can show themselves in victims. It is important to pay close attention to worsening emotional symptoms and ensuring continued support by health care professionals.

Whether the stroke recovery process takes weeks or never truly ends, a positive outlook by caregivers and the stroke victim can help ease the road to a new and productive normal.