stroke recovery

Stroke recovery process

In the previous article we talked about stroke after effects. Because stroke after effects can manifest as different types and forms of functional impairments, recovery process will also be different for every individual. Stroke recovery is a complex process with no two stroke survivors regaining function the same way. It starts with acute care, goes on to rehabilitation and home recovery process, may continue at a local clinic and in ways may last throughout life.

The process can be slow and uncertain, with some people recovering quicker, some later. However there are common patterns to what happens during different stages of stroke recovery.

Stroke recovery timeline

Recovery usually begins after doctors have stabilized your condition. This includes restoring blood flow to your brain and reducing any pressure in the area of the affected part. It also includes reducing any risk factors for a stroke. Because of this, rehabilitation may start during your initial hospital stay. Beginning the recovery process as early as possible can increase your chances of regaining impaired brain and body functions. Although recovery looks different for everyone, there are certain patterns during the different stages of stroke recovery timeline.

Initial treatment phase

If you experience a stroke, you will likely be admitted to an emergency department first. There, medical practitioners will stabilize your condition and determine the type of stroke you experienced. Depending on the stroke’s severity, you may need to spend time in intensive care or acute care.

Rehabilitation should begin as soon as possible. At some facilities it begins already 24 hours after experiencing a stroke. To read about acute care and rehabilitation options and process, read "What are the options for stroke rehabilitation?". The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to improve and restore your speech, cognitive, motor, or other impaired functions so that you can be as independent as possible. Timely rehabilitation is key.

First few weeks after a stroke

The typical length of a hospital stay after a stroke is five to seven days. During this time, the medical practitioners will evaluate the effects of the stroke, which will determine the rehabilitation plan. The long-term effects of amstroke may impair cognitive, physical, psychological functions and more. To learn more about stroke after effects, read in our article "What are stroke after effects?". Physical and occupational therapists can help determine which areas of your brain were affected. During this time, therapy sessions should be conducted several times a day in order to properly evaluate the stroke patient's condition. This will help with determining the right approach for recovery procedures and allow to begin immediately.

Stroke rehabilitation will be very important in this phase of recovery. Rehabilitation will focus on performing activities of daily living such as bathing or getting dressed. You can also talk to your medical team about the activities that are most important to you and they will help you set recovery goals. Your doctors will evaluate what rehabilitation setting and option will be the most suitable. Even though you may attend rehabilitation sessions, it is also important to also practice on your own. For the after effects you are experiencing, a rehabilitation psychologist and neuropsychologist can help you create a plan to improve the affected functions and help you prepare for what could be permanent changes.

Afterwards you may be discharged from the hospital. In order to return living at home, you do not have to be completely recovered. If you can perform most of your daily activities and routines, or have loved ones that can assist you, it is possible to do so.

1-3 months after a stroke

This will be the most important phase for your recovery and the phase where you will see improve the most. During this time, it is recommended to enter and complete an inpatient rehabilitation program. Alternatively you may attend outpatient therapy sessions. The end goal for rehabilitation is to restore your lost functions or develop ways to work around a functional impairment with so called "compensation strategies". An example of a compensation strategy is learning to hold a toothpaste tube with your impaired hand so the strong hand can unscrew the cap.

During the first three months after a stroke, a patient might experience a so called spontaneous recovery. When a skill or ability that seemed lost suddenly returns as the brain finds new ways to perform tasks. This may happen when another part of your brain takes control over the lost function and performs it now instead. How brain recovers after a stroke is not yet fully understood, yet there are different explanations to how it happens. It may restore functions when the way tasks are normally performed is changed, if blood flow to the affected area of your brain is restored, and others.

During this time, some patients might experience additional health conditions resulting from stroke like pneumonia or a second stroke. This can be very difficult for the stroke patient since the rehabilitation process needs to be interrupted, recovery goals reevaluated and additional stroke after effects may arise.

6 months and later

After six months, improvements are possible but will be much slower. Most stroke patients have reached a relatively stable state by now. Some patients may have fully recovered. Others may still experience impairments, also called chronic stroke disease. Whether a full recovery is possible depends on a variety of factors which you can read about later in the article.

Even though recovery process does slow down at this point, it is important to continue the rehabilitation process and to follow up with doctors. This may include checking in with your general practitioner about your health condition and prevention of future strokes, talking to your physiotherapist about ongoing rehabilitation plans, etc. You may also check in with your physical and occupational therapist about regaining lost functions or a psychologist who can help you after emotional and cognitive disturbances. All of this will help you regain confidence and help you return back to normal life.

Finding inspiration and stroke recovery tips

Finding inspiration from other stroke survivors. Learning about others' recovery process can be a great tool for inspiration, can help you with  feelings of isolation and finding hope. There are stroke survivors who surpass the recovery expectations through their dedication and efforts and return back to an independent normal life. You might find stories that you relate to, cases that might be similar to yours. This may give you the hope that you can recover, too.

Educating yourself about stroke and your situation. It is very important that you are involved and dedicated to your recovery wholly. This includes educating yourself about stroke, necessary therapies (occupational, physical and whichever therapy applies to you), reading information about stroke, etc. It is important to be proactive and engaged in your recovery on top of what the medical team prescribes. This too will speed up your recovery process and allow you to prepare and understand your condition and after effects better.

Neuroplasticity. One of the most confusing aspects in rehabilitation is neuroplasticity (retraining the brain to perform functions that may have been impaired by a stroke). It is a delicate phenomenon and hasn't yet been fully understood. However, neuroplasticity is one of the most important parts of rehabilitation. Nowadays it is made fun and interesting with the help of technology. Vigo, too, provides you the help for retraining the brain after a stroke.

Lifestyle changes. Even with all of the helpful rehabilitation therapies available, one's own lifestyle and habits are very important for recovery and preventing another stroke. Read more about lifestyle factors in our article "What can help prevent a stroke?"

Is stroke recovery always successful?

According to the American National Stroke Association, 10 percent of stroke survivors recover almost completely and 25 percent recover with minor impairments. Another 40 percent experience moderate to severe impairments that require special medical attention. This means that the likelihood of having some type of long-lasting functional impairment is quite high. Another 10% require long-term care at a healthcare facility. Successful stroke recovery depends on various factors, including:

  • the severity of stroke experienced
  • timing for how soon the recovery process was started
  • your own motivation and efforts to recover
  • Other potential medical conditions
  • Age when the stroke occurred

While recovery process changes over time, It is important to remember that recovering from a stroke is not a linear process. It is important to try and not get discouraged if recovery doesn't happen as fast as you would have liked or have expected. As you can see, your recovery depends a lot on your own motivation and efforts. A skilled and strong medical team can also affect how well you recover. The support you receive from your family and loved ones can also be a great help. Educating yourself, doing recovery work on top of what your medical team prescribes and possibly changing your lifestyle can greatly contribute too.

After experiencing a stroke, you might find it difficult to begin your life again. But staying motivated and proactive about getting well will be your best bet to recover.