Before we go into an in-depth explanation of how stroke recovery works. It’s important to highlight that the stroke recovery journey is different for every patient. Especially since the recovery time after stroke is different for everyone. In some cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years. Some stroke victims can expect a full recovery, while others are left with long-term disabilities.
Every year millions of people have strokes and unfortunately nearly of quarter of those people die. Stroke is still a leading cause of disability and death in the world. And it’s only getting worse as the population ages, and incidence rates are still going up.
The main goal of this article is to explain what can a patient experience during his stroke recovery journey. And to begin with, we are starting with the simple explanations of what does a stroke can do to the brain.
How does the stroke affect the patients?
The damage to the brain after the stroke can lead to some long-lasting problems.
Although some people may recover quickly, that is not always the case. Since many people need long-term support after the stroke. To help them achieve as much independence as possible. This process of recovery depends on several factors. Factors such as the symptoms and their severity.
Stroke recovery usually starts in the hospital. And it continues at home or at a rehabilitation center in your community. During your stay at the hospital, a team of different specialists may help with your rehabilitation strategy. These include physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, dietitians, and specialist nurses. The patients will be encouraged to actively participate in the recovery process. And work with their care team to set goals they want to achieve during recovery. Therapies and rehabilitation methods for the common problems caused by strokes are outlined below.
What can the patient expect after the stroke?
Recovery after a stroke starts in the hospital. Usually within a day or two after the stroke. Rehab facilities help ease the transition from hospital to home. And can potentially help prevent another stroke.
If you are a stroke survivor, you can make great steps to regain your independence. But some problems may continue to follow your journey.
Some of those problems may be :
- Paralysis, weakness, or both together on the affected side of your body
- Issues with thinking, attention span, learning, decision making, and memory
- Difficulty to understand or forming sentences
- Emotions can be hard to express or control
- Strange sensations and numbness
- Pain in the hand and feet. That worsens with temperature changes and movement
- Dysphagia, trouble with swallowing and chewing.
- Problems with bowel and bladder control
- Post-stroke depression and PTSD
Psychological impact during stroke recovery
Two of the most common psychological problems that affect stroke victims:
- depression – a mood disorder that makes patients feel constant sadness or lack of interest in life
- anxiety – the feeling of fear and anxiety, uncontrolled feelings of anxiety are anxiety attacks
Feelings such as anger, frustration, and confusion are also very common. The patients will receive a psychological assessment from a psychologist after they are checked in the hospitals. To see if they are experiencing any emotional problems. Afterward, the patients are given a piece of advice on how to deal with the physiological impact of stroke. This includes the impact on your relationship with your family members or any intimate relationship. These issues may settle down over time. But if they’re severe or last a long time, your doctor should refer you to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
For some patients, medicines and psychological therapies may help. Psychological therapies such as counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy. The main goal of CBT is to change the way patients think about things. And to produce a more positive state of the patient’s mind.
Cognitive impact during stroke recovery
Cognitive is a term that refers to the functions and processes the brain uses to process information.
List of cognitive functions stroke can disrupt :
- Spatial awareness – awareness of where your body is in relation to your environment
- Ability to plan and solve problems
- Ability to carry out some physical activities
As part of recovery, each one of the patient’s cognitive functions will be assessed. And based on the results, a treatment and rehabilitation plan will be created. Patients can learn a wide range of therapies to help them relearn disrupted cognitive functions. Such as recovering their communication skills through speech and language therapy.
There are many ways to compensate for the loss of cognitive functions. Such as using memory aids, diaries, or routines in order to help plan daily tasks. Most cognitive functions will return with time and a rehabilitation plan. But patients may find that they do not return to the way they were before.
A stroke causes damage to the brain that increases the risk of developing vascular dementia. And this might happen immediately after a stroke. Or it might develop sometime later after the stroke.
Read more about 5 Best brain exercises for Stroke recovery
Movement problems during stroke recovery
Strokes can cause paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. And it can also result in problems with coordination and balance. Many patients also experience severe fatigue in the first few weeks after a stroke. And may also experience difficulty sleeping, which makes them even more tired.
As part of your recovery, you should see a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist will assess the extent of any physical disability. Before creating the best treatment plan for the current state. Physiotherapy sessions will often involve several exercises per week. With the focus on areas such as exercises to improve your muscle strength. Or even to overcome any walking difficulties. The physiotherapist will work with the patient by setting goals. In the beginning, they might be simple goals, such as picking up an object.
As the patient’s condition improves, more demanding long-term goals are to be set. The goals such as standing or walking. A caretaker, such as a family member, should be involved in your physiotherapy sessions. The physiotherapist’s goal is to teach you both exercises you can do at home.
If you have problems with activities, such as getting washed and dressed. You should also receive help from an occupational therapist. They can help you find ways to manage any difficulties at home. Occupational therapy may help adapt your home or use equipment to make everyday activities easier. Along with finding alternative ways of completing tasks you have problems with.
Communication issues during stroke recovery
After a stroke, many patients experience problems with speaking and understanding. As well as the problems with the ability to read and write. If the parts of the brain responsible for communication are damaged.
Then the patient is suffering from the condition called aphasia, or dysphasia. If there’s weakness in the muscles involved in speaking as a result of brain damage. Then the patient is suffering from dysarthria.
The therapies done with the speech therapists may involve:
- exercises to improve your speech muscles and their control
- using communication solutions – such as charts and electronic aids
- using alternative communication methods – such as writing and gestures
Swallowing problems during stroke recovery
Stroke can cause damage that can interrupt your normal swallowing reflex. Making it impossible for small particles of food to enter your windpipe. Problems with swallowing after stroke are known as dysphagia. Dysphagia can also lead to cases of lung damage. Which can trigger a lung infection also known as pneumonia.
Patients with dysphagia may need to be fed using a feeding tube. Especially during the initial phases of recovery to prevent any complications. The feeding tube is usually put into your nose and passed into your stomach. Or it may be directly connected to your stomach with a small operation. This operation is done under local anesthesia.
In the long term, visiting speech and language therapists several times a week can help your swallowing problems. Therapies with SLP may involve tips to make swallowing easier. Such as taking smaller bites of food, fixing posture, and various exercises to improve control of the muscles involved in swallowing.
Visual problems during stroke recovery
Stroke can also damage the parts of the brain that process, receive, and interpret information sent from the eyes. This can result in losing half the field of vision. For instance, patients can only see the left or right side of what’s in front of them.
Stroke can also affect the control of the eye muscles, which causes double vision. If you are experiencing problems with your vision after a stroke. You should visit an eye specialist called an orthoptist. Orthoptists can assess your current vision and suggest possible treatments.
Eye movement therapy is beneficial if you have lost part of your field of vision. This therapy involves exercises that help you look to the side with your reduced vision. Orthoptists can also give you advice about how to perform tasks that can be difficult if your vision is reduced.
Bowel and bladder control during stroke recovery
It can cause damage to the part of the brain that controls the bladder and bowel. This results in urinary incontinence and difficulty to control bowel. Some people may regain bladder and bowel control quite quickly. But if you still have problems after leaving the hospital, you should seek additional help. Always ask for advice, if you experience a problem. Because there are a lot of treatments that are helpful.
These treatments include:
- Exercises for bladder retraining
- Different medicines
- Exercises for pelvic floor
- Using medical products for incontinence
Stroke recovery with medical experts
Rehabilitation after a stroke includes working with speech, physical and occupational therapists.
Speech therapists help stroke patients who are suffering from aphasia. Aphasia is a medical condition where the patients have obstacles with speaking and understanding.
Physical therapists develop your personal recovery plan and suggest the best exercises. Exercises that help you relearn movement and coordination skills. That you might have lost because of stroke.
Occupational therapists’ work focuses on helping the patients with everyday activities. Those activities are eating, drinking, showering, writing, and dressing.
Therapies and medicine can help with post-stroke depression, or other mental conditions that follow a stroke. But we suggest you get in contact with your local psychologist and include your loved ones in this process. Or also joining a patient support group may help you adjust to your stroke journey.
Stroke recovery with digital tools
Today we live in the digital era, where everything you need can be found by a simple search on google. And also looking for stroke recovery therapies online can be intimidating. However, if you’ve wanted to find a perfect match, but have been nervous about doing so in person. We can say that the remote options available truly rival the more traditional ones.
Many of these solutions are accessible via mobile apps that are designed to streamline your stroke recovery journey. And take most of the guesswork out of finding the expert attention you’ve been seeking.
So first on our list, we present to you Motus Health. A digital health therapy app, designed to provide everything one patient can need in one place.
Motus Health app doesn’t just only focus on stroke patients, but also on their caretakers. Together with the team of medical experts, they have come up with an innovative solution, to bring stroke care to the home.
Recently, they have also released a web platform, called Stroke Survivors Stories. Where they put stroke patients in the spotlight and share their stories with the rest of the world. With a goal to raise awareness, and destigmatize stroke.
We can go on and on about the work they do for the stroke community. But we suggest that you check yourself about everything they do on their social media.
Prevention of another stroke
It’s common knowledge that stroke patients are at a high risk of experiencing another stroke.
We gathered a couple of facts about recurring strokes :
- One in four strokes each year happen are recurrent
- The chance of another stroke within 90 days after the Tia is 17%. With even greater risk during the first week after the stroke.
In addition to all of the mentioned therapies above. Here is a list of things you can do yourself to lower the chances of another stroke from happening.
- The focus should be to prevent the main causes of stroke. Those causes are usually diet, weight, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol intake
- Take recommended therapies if you are suffering from any heart disease
- Monitor and lower the high blood pressure
- Observe for the signs of atrial fibrillation (fast or irregular heartbeats)
- Medication and diet changes for high cholesterol
- Control the glucose levels, if you are diabetic.
Your doctor can prescribe you needed medicine. Or provide suggestions on how to change your diet, exercise plan, and adopt other healthy lifestyle habits. In some cases of recurrent stroke, surgery has proven to be helpful.
Caring for someone who’s had a stroke
There are many ways a friend or relative can provide support to someone who’s had a stroke.
These options can include:
- helping them do their physical exercises in between their meetings with the physiotherapist
- providing reassurance and emotional support that their condition can improve with time
- motivating them to reach their long-term goals
- adapting to any needs they may have. Such as speaking slowly if they have problems with communication
Support from the patient’s family and friends helps relieve fear and anxiety for stroke victims. Let them know what do you feel and what they can do to help you. Caring for a stroke patient can be a lonely and frustrating experience. Some of the advice below may help you.
Be prepared for behavior changes
Someone who’s had a stroke can often seem as they have had a change in personality. And they can also appear to act irrationally at times. But this is the result of the cognitive and psychological impact of a stroke. They may seem angry or resentful towards you. Try not to take it personally, even if it seems upsetting. But don’t forget that they can return to their old self as their rehabilitation and recovery progress.
Try to remain positive and patient
Stroke recovery can be a slow and frustrating process. And there will be times when it seems as only a little progress has happened. Encouraging any progress, no matter how small it may seem, can help motivate stroke patients to achieve their recovery goals.
Make time for yourself
It’s important not to neglect your own physical and psychological wellbeing. Especially, If you’re caring for someone who’s had a stroke. Socializing with friends or hobbies interests can help you cope better with the situation. And at last, don’t forget to ask for help if needed. There is a wide range of support services and resources available for stroke patients, their families, and caregivers. Like this one here. This ranges from mobility equipment that helps with movement, to psychological support.