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 1 side of the body, or in 1 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
Bowel or bladder control problems
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.
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 positive 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.