What to know about stroke recovery

Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You may be familiar with the signs of stroke, but do you know what happens during stroke recovery?

Stroke is a leading cause of death among Americans, but it’s also the leading cause of disability. That means that for patients who have had a stroke, stroke recovery is often a long and complicated process.

But with the help of medical interventions and a variety of therapies, patients can often recover their abilities and move on to live successful lives.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what recovery might look like.

Why prompt treatment for stroke is important

Before we look at recovery, let’s first reiterate the importance of promptly seeking medical care if a stroke is suspected.

When a stroke occurs, vitally important oxygen is cut off from the brain. Every minute that passes by increases the likelihood of disability as the brain goes without oxygen.

But the good news is that patients who seek prompt care in the emergency room — within three hours of initial stroke symptoms — experience less disability three months following a stroke than those who delay care.

So, think FAST when it comes to stroke. If you or someone you know experience facial drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulties, it’s time to call for emergency services.

Recovering after stroke

Every individual stroke is different, and because of that, recovery differs from patient to patient, too. In fact, even patients who have experienced more than one stroke often find that their recovery process is unique in each case.

That’s because stroke impacts the body in a multitude of ways, causing physical, mental, social and emotional changes in a person. To combat those changes requires a multifaceted approach that helps a patient recover and also helps prevent future strokes.

Many factors influence a patient’s recovery journey, including what part of the brain was affected, how much of the brain was affected and even the patient’s health prior to the stroke.

Rehabilitation will play a key role in the recovery process, helping patients recover skills and abilities that they have lost due to the stroke. Each type of rehabilitation offers unique benefits, and many people will require a combination of physical, occupational and speech therapies to recover.

The role of physical therapy in stroke recovery

Stroke impacts many facets of a person’s life, often causing difficulties with mobility, gait, speech and swallowing. The first two mentioned — mobility and gait issues — are often improved with physical therapy.

Physical therapy can be used to help stroke patients who are experiencing motor and sensory impairment, which can negatively impact the ability to walk and move around.

Based on a patient’s specific abilities, a physical therapist will put together a regimen designed to more effectively use the arms and legs and get back to normal movement.

The role of occupational therapy in stroke recovery

Contrary to its name, occupational therapy is not related to your occupation. Or at least, not entirely. This type of therapy helps improve the motor and sensory skills needed to perform tasks of everyday living, like grooming, bathing, cleaning and cooking.

Occupational therapy may even be used to help patients recover the ability to drive after stroke — or to help them relearn specific movements needed to perform a job or favorite hobby.

Occupational therapists can also be helpful in helping patients learn to navigate the home environment after stroke, identifying potential hazards and improvements that can make life easier.

The role of speech therapy in stroke recovery

Aphasia, or the impairment of language, is a common effect after stroke. It can impact a person’s ability to speak, read and write, since language involves our ability to recognize and use words and sentences.

The capability to understand language is in the left side of the brain, so if a person experiences a stroke that impacts the left side of the brain, aphasia is likely. Stroke patients also often experience diminished swallowing abilities.

Speech therapy, which is also referenced as speech language pathology, can be used to help with both issues.

A speech therapist will use specific exercises to enhance language rehabilitation, like repeating words or following directions. When it comes to swallowing difficulties, a doctor and therapist will work together to determine the specific underlying cause, such as a delayed swallowing reflex, and then offer a specialized treatment plan to overcome it.

If you or a loved one experience a stroke, one of the world’s leading stroke centers is right here in Chattanooga. The Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center offers comprehensive services for stroke, including interventional and post-stroke care.