5 Tips For Stroke Recovery and Daily Living
If you believe you are having a stroke, the sooner you get help, the better. A stroke is an emergency medical event, but the recovery process may take days, weeks, or even months. However, you can lessen the long-term effects of a stroke by starting your rehabilitation as soon as your doctor believes it is medically safe for you to do so.
A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Stroke is also a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and it reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and older, the CDC reports. Nonetheless, it is possible that stroke survivors can return to their normal routines or learn new ways to manage their daily living activities. Here are five tips that can help in stroke recovery:
1. Know How to Identify a Stroke
According to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, there are five sudden warning signs of a stroke:
• Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
• Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Severe headache with no known cause
If you are with someone who is having a stroke, the association says to use the letters in the acronym FAST to spot stroke symptoms:
• F= Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Is the person’s smile uneven?
• A = Arm Weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak or numb? Does one arm drift downward?
• S = Speech Difficulty: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the person’s speech slurred?
• T = Time: If the person failed any part of the test, it’s time to dial 9-1-1.
After arriving at the emergency department, medical professionals will stabilize the condition and determine the type of stroke the person experienced. According to the CDC, there are two types of stroke:
• Ischemic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when blood clots or other particles block the blood vessels in the brain. To treat the condition, doctors use a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This medication has been found to improve the chances of recovery if administered within three hours of when the symptoms begin.
• Hemorrhagic stroke. This type of stroke happens when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures (breaks open). The leaked blood puts too much pressure on brain cells, which damages them. A hemorrhagic stroke can be treated with medication, surgery, or another procedure that can stop bleeding in the brain.
Time is of the essence in identifying a stroke, and getting help as soon as possible reduces the chances of needing long-term care in a nursing home.
2. Understand That There May Be Challenges Ahead
The type of physical, cognitive, and emotional changes stroke survivors experience depends on the severity and location of the stroke. Some of the most common changes that experience include:
• Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
• Muscle stiffness that interferes with managing daily living activities
• Difficulty swallowing
• Problems with memory
• Trouble with speaking, listening or understanding what other people are saying
• Sleep problems
• Sudden confusion that makes it difficult to make decisions, plan, or organize ideas
• Impulsive behavior
Medical experts say it takes time to recover from a stroke, and survivors will need help and understanding from others during this process.
“Remember to be patient when communicating with a stroke survivor,” said Dr. Elissa Charbonneau, chief medical officer of Encompass Health and an American Stroke Association national volunteer. “The impact of a stroke on cognitive, speech, and language can be significant and isolating. When connecting with a stroke survivor, some helpful practices include demonstrating tasks, breaking actions into smaller steps, enunciating, asking multiple choice questions, and repetition.”
3. Start Rehabilitation Early
Depending on the severity of the stroke, stroke survivors may need immediate rehabilitation to help in their recovery process. At Johns Hopkins, rehabilitation starts around 24 hours after a stroke, said Dr. Preeti Raghavan, a stroke rehabilitation specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“Starting rehabilitation as soon as possible after the cause of the stroke is treated is vital in stroke recovery,” Dr. Raghavan said.
If you have had a stroke, a rehabilitation team may be assigned to you while you are in the hospital. The team, consisting of neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, nurses, and psychiatrists, will meet to discuss your condition and form a therapy plan. The plan might include the following:
• Physical therapy to improve balance, mobility, speech, or regaining the use of your arm.
• Cognitive therapy to improve memory, concentration, and visual-spatial processing (comprehending visual and spatial relationships among objects).
• Occupational therapy that helps you relearn daily living activities, such as dressing yourself, feeding yourself, and going to the toilet, and offering advice on when to return to work and modifications you may need in your workplace.
• Psychological therapy may be necessary to help you if you are experiencing depression, frustration, anger, and other behaviors that impact your ability to deal with your health condition.
You may naturally regain some of your skills, abilities, or use of your limbs during the first three months after a stroke. Spontaneous recovery, as it is called, occurs due to the brain finding new ways to perform tasks.
4. Take Steps To Prevent Having Another Stroke
According to the American Stroke Association, 1 in 4 stroke survivors will have another stroke. This is why the CDC says it is important to treat the causes of stroke, which include:
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Atrial fibrillation
• High cholesterol
The good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes may be prevented with a combination of medication and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, according to the American Stroke Association. And health professionals say the way to do this is to:
• Manage high blood pressure
• Control cholesterol
• Manage blood glucose
• Being active
• Eating better
• Losing weight
• Quit smoking/tobacco/vaping
5. Find Support During Recovery
Health professionals say stroke survivors need all the support they can get during recovery. Dr. Raghavan, who is also a psychiatrist, says she looks to support patients in any way she can during checkups.
While improvement may take longer for some patients, there’s still hope for them to make small advances. “I think it’s important to paint a picture of hope in stroke,” Dr. Raghavan says. “Every time you need less assistance with a task, that is a milestone for the patient.”