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Stroke Recovery Begins with Rehabilitation

If someone you love has had a stroke, or "brain attack," in which 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, poststroke rehabilitation provides a way a person can make significant progress to overcome disabilities resulting from a stroke. A comprehensive program also addresses the person's personal goals.

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, and also the area in which the stroke is located.

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

Specialists who may be involved in stroke rehab include:

  • 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. While immediate intervention following a stroke is noted to have the best outcomes, continuous therapy for the patient has been shown to have positives effects over the long term, and prevents many complications that may occur from lack of muscle use. It is important to understand that the course of recovery is individualized, and that family support for patient motivation is important as well.