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The road back from stroke

» Right away

» In coming days

» The components of rehabilitation

» If you’ve had a stroke

Facing the aftermath

Rehabilitation efforts target a stroke victim’s specific symptoms. Typically, damage to the right side of the brain causes left-sided weakness or paralysis, spatial-perceptual problems, impulsive behavior and/or a lack of awareness of one’s left side. Left-sided brain injury, on the other hand, results in right-sided weakness or paralysis, speech problems and/or slow, cautious behavior.

Strokes may impair memory, attention span or learning. Some people experience fatigue or depression. It’s also common for stroke survivors to have unexplainable bursts of anger, laughter or tears.

Turning bad news to good news

Anyone who has had a stroke is automatically at higher risk for another. Nonetheless, taking certain measures can prevent a recurrence.

  • If you smoke, you must quit now.
    As an ex-smoker, your chance of a stroke will drop to that of a nonsmoker in only five years.
  • High blood pressure greatly increases your risk of stroke.
    Proper diet, exercise and medications can usually control high blood pressure.
  • Heart disease and some abnormal heart rhythms increase your risk of stroke.
    Medications or surgery may correct or treat heart problems, such as atrial fibrillation or blocked carotid (neck) arteries that can lead to blood clots and stroke.
  • Alcoholic beverages can raise blood pressure and increase stroke risk.
    Moderate alcohol use (drinking no more than two drinks a day) may actually reduce your risk of heart disease. Ask your doctor’s advice regarding alcohol use.

While a person’s life may change after a stroke, it’s far from over. Support and encouragement from family and friends, a positive outlook and a well-coordinated rehabilitation plan can help stroke victims along the path toward independence and productivity. If you or a loved one suffers a stroke, this article will give you an idea of what the road back entails.

Right away

Doctors’ immediate priority is minimizing the extent of brain injuries. To do that, they may prescribe blood thinners or administer drugs that control blood pressure or stop seizures.

It’s during this phase that rehabilitation begins. Nurses and/or physical therapists will change a person’s body position frequently to help him or her avoid bedsores. They also will move the arms and legs to maintain circulation, joint flexibility and muscle tone.

In coming days

Some lost abilities may return within the first weeks or months after a stroke. And therapy can help restore functions that don’t spontaneously return. As rehabilitation goes forward, setting realistic goals—ones that are not too simple or too frustrating—is a good way to help a person feel satisfied with his or her progress.

The components of rehabilitation

  • Physical therapy. Active exercise will soon replace the passive exercises that others did for you. A physical therapist may start with exercises that increase range of motion and muscle tone, then progress to skills such as turning over, sitting up, walking with a four-footed cane and, if possible, walking independently.
    Progress may be slow, and family members can help by providing encouragement and reinforcing these skills.
  • Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist helps a stroke survivor develop coordination for daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, cooking, writing and working. If it’s impossible for a person to return to former activities, he or she might learn new techniques, such as how to perform two-handed tasks with one hand (for example, buttoning clothes).
  • Speech therapy. Speech pathologists help with language difficulties (aphasia), swallowing problems (dysphagia) and difficulties with articulation (dysarthria). A stroke survivor may have difficulties expressing and/or understanding language. Speech pathologists can help a person recover those skills. They also can teach the patient’s family new ways to communicate with their loved one, such as pointing to objects or speaking in short, direct sentences.
  • Other help. Social workers may assist with discharge plans. Recreational therapists may help a person resume leisure activities. And nurses, dietitians and psychologists may provide educational and emotional support.

If you’ve had a stroke

Following your treatment plan to the letter may be the single most important step you can take on the road to recovery. That includes taking medication as scheduled and adopting lifestyle changes that will help prevent future strokes.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media