Stroke Recovery Begins With Rehabilitation

If someone you love has had a stroke—a blood vessel in the brain was blocked or damaged—you may wonder what lies ahead. A stroke can cause problems with speech, vision, memory, balance, or coordination. It can leave part of the body weakened or paralyzed, among other physical problems. Your loved one may have to relearn how to walk, talk or do daily activities.

It may help to know that rehabilitation can help people regain life skills and learn new ways to do tasks. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), post-stroke rehabilitation provides a way a person can make significant progress to overcome disabilities resulting from a stroke. "Most people can make significant strides in recovery with rehabilitation," says Lawrence Brass, M.D., professor of neurology at Yale University. A comprehensive program also addresses the person's personal goals.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), here are some of the physical and mental problems that a stroke can cause:

  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, or in one arm or leg

  • Muscle stiffness or muscle spasms

  • Balance or coordination problems

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech

  • Being unaware or ignoring one side of the body, or being unaware of the stroke's effects

  • Memory, thinking or learning problems

  • Pain, numbness or odd sensations

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Bowel or bladder control problems

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

How much can be accomplished in rehabilitation depends on the amount of brain damage the stroke caused, the NINDS says.

These are other factors that influence the success of rehab:

  • The rehab team's skill

  • Support of family and friends

  • The timing of rehab

Each person's recovery after stroke is unique. This is because a stroke can affect different people in different ways and to different degrees. Stroke rehab should start as soon as possible after a stroke to give the person the best chance to recover skills and abilities.

Stroke rehab programs can be found at a rehab hospitals and long-term care facilities. They also are offered on an outpatient basis and in the home.

A team effort

According to the NINDS, these are specialists who may be involved in stroke rehab:

  • Physiatrists, neurologists, internists, geriatric specialists, and family practice doctors

  • Rehab nurses, who are trained to assist people with disabilities

  • Physical therapists, who help with movement, balance and coordination problems

  • Occupational therapists, who help with daily living skills

  • Speech-language pathologists, who help with language skills

  • Social workers, who help the stroke patient return home or to a new living place

  • Psychologists, who help with mental and emotional issues

  • Therapeutic recreation specialists, who help stroke patients return to recreational activities they once enjoyed

It's natural to want quick results from rehabilitation. "But, keep in mind that improvement may take one year or longer," says Dr. Brass. "Have realistic expectations and don't get discouraged."

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