Stroke Rehabilitation Guide: Take Charge of Your Recovery

Middle aged black mum and teenage daughter embracing and smiling to camera

Did you know that almost 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the U.S.?[1]  Most strokes happen in people over 65, but they can occur at any age, even in children.

Every stroke and every recovery is unique.

Stroke is a complicated disease. Depending on where the stroke occurred in your brain and how severe it was, the effects on your ability to move, think, and talk could be minor, or you may require significant rehabilitation. How long it takes to recover from a stroke is different for everyone: Some patients make a significant recovery within weeks, yet others may take months or years.

Because everyone’s stroke is different, everyone’s recovery will be unique. Factors that may influence your recovery include:

  • Where the stroke occurred in your brain.
  • How much of your brain is impacted.
  • The quality of your caregivers and rehabilitation.
  • Your social network.
  • How healthy you were before your stroke.

How to take charge of your stroke recovery.

No matter how your stroke affected you, it’s vital that you take charge of your stroke recovery. High quality rehabilitation is critical in helping you regain the abilities you had before the stroke — you’ll need help regaining lost skills, relearning tasks, and learning how to be independent again. A positive demeanor will be your greatest asset.

“Research shows the most important element in any neurorehabilitation program is carefully directed, well-focused, repetitive practice—the same kind of practice used by all people when they learn a new skill, such as playing the piano or pitching a baseball.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Stroke rehabilitation guide.

After your initial hospitalization, you and your loved ones will have to make important decisions, such as:

  • Will you need an inpatient rehabilitation facility for therapy and nursing care?
  • Will you need a subacute care facility (when you don’t need a hospital but aren’t yet ready to go home)?
  • Will you need in-home physical therapy, occupational therapy or nursing?
  • Will you only need outpatient therapy?
  • Which rehabilitation facility is best for you?

A physiatrist can help you with these decisions. They are specialized physicians who have medical training in assisting people in regaining function after illness or injury, such as strokes.

Keys to stroke recovery:

  1. Consistent therapy. Keep all your therapy and rehabilitation appointments, whether in your home or at an outpatient facility. Your highest priority is to continue to work hard at speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and other therapies, as directed by your physician.
  2. Participate in family counseling. Talking with a counselor, with or without your family present, will help you cope with the changes you are experiencing.
  3. Do not become discouraged. Initially, you may see considerable recovery and then a slowdown. While it may seem that your progress has come to a halt, this is probably not the case, as the brain has enormous potential to recover over months and years. Even if you cannot improve certain deficits, your function can improve as you learn ways to compensate.
  4. Maintain a positive attitude. Your attitude is key to your recovery. It helps you cope with the very significant changes in your life and allows you to focus on getting better.
  5. Report depression. If you experience depression, report your symptoms. Depression can cause a loss of motivation to follow through on your therapy at a critical time in your recovery.
  6. Transparency. Be honest with your medical team about your progress. Report changes in bladder or bowel control, skin, your ability to perform self-care tasks, swallowing or eating, increased pain, muscle cramping, speech, mobility, vision, sleep or mood.
  7. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet, reduce your alcohol use, and, if possible, start an exercise program.
  8. Reduce your risk factors. It’s essential to keep an eye on these risk factors to help prevent a 2nd stroke.[2]
    1. Blood pressure: High blood pressure damages blood vessels and is the leading cause of stroke. Learn how to reduce your blood pressure.
    2. Smoking: When you stop smoking, your stroke risk decreases dramatically. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Current smokers have at least a two – to fourfold increased risk of stroke compared with lifelong nonsmokers or individuals who had quit smoking more than ten years prior.”
    3. Diabetes: If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. Diabetes causes changes in the blood vessels, and a stroke can occur if the vessels in the brain are affected.
    4. High cholesterol: When too much cholesterol is in your blood, fatty deposits can build up in your arteries. This buildup makes the arteries narrow and stiff, which restricts blood flow. If an artery becomes completely clogged, cutting off blood flow, a stroke may likely occur.
    5. Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle (not exercising) raises the risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease, any of which increase the risk of stroke.
    6. Diet: A diet with unhealthy fats and high sodium (salt) increases your risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which may cause a second stroke.
    7. Weight: Being significantly overweight, especially if you’re obese, increases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, any of which can cause a stroke.
    8. Alcohol use: Using alcohol too often raises your blood pressure and increases the likelihood of developing arteriosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque narrows the arteries and increases the risk of a blocked artery. Men shouldn’t have more than two drinks a day, and women, one drink a day.
    9. Existing heart disease: Patients with heart disease, such as a-fib, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, or an enlarged heart, are at greater risk of stroke. If you have heart disease, follow your cardiologist’s recommendations to reduce the possibility of a second stroke.

There are no simple answers to how fast your recovery will be or how much function you’ll regain. As a rule, the best results occur when you start rehabilitation as soon as possible after your stroke. And don’t lose hope – your brain can continue to recover for years with appropriate physical, speech, and occupational therapy.

If you would like to learn more about the stroke rehabilitation program at Good Shepherd Penn Partners, please call 877-969-7342 or see our stroke rehabilitation program page here.

[1]:  AHA Journals, Guidelines for Adult Stroke Rehabilitation and Recovery.

[2]: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Fact Sheet.