Stroke Rehabilitation

What is stroke rehabilitation?

The goal in rehabilitation is to help the stroke survivor become as independent as possible. When a stroke occurs, some parts of the brain may be damaged because brain cells have died. Or parts of the brain may be temporarily damaged and start working normally again after the stroke. Sometimes, a different part of the brain "takes over" for a part damaged by the stroke.

A stroke can affect the senses, movement of your muscles, and speech. It can change behavior, thoughts, and memory. Familiar objects from the past may not be familiar anymore. The most common brain injury from a stroke causes paralysis or weakness on one side of the face or body.

The mental problems caused by a stroke can be very serious. Stroke survivors may cry easily or laugh uncontrollably. Depression is common. It is important for the stroke survivor's family to understand that many mental problems, even personality changes, may a result of the stroke. Persons who have had a stroke need support as they recover.

Rehab begins when the health care provider determines that the stroke survivor is medically stable and able to benefit from it, usually within 1 to 2 weeks after the stroke has occurred. Most of the recovery that is possible will occur within 6 months, but some function may be regained as long as a year afterward.

There are three main kinds of stroke rehab:

  • Physical therapy (PT) helps restore physical abilities and skills like walking and range of movement. PT works on problems such as partial or one-sided paralysis, balance problems, and foot drop.

  • Occupational therapy (OT) involves relearning the skills needed for everyday living such as eating, toileting, dressing and taking care of yourself.

  • Speech language therapy is another major part of stroke rehabilitation. Some stroke survivors can think as well as before the stroke but are unable to get the right words out or process words coming in. This is usually caused by a stroke on the left side of the brain. Speech language therapists can also help with memory loss and other "thought" problems caused by the stroke.

What will I do in rehab?

What you do in rehab depends on what you need to relearn. You may work to improve your independence in many areas. These include:

  • self-care skills such as feeding, grooming, bathing and dressing

  • mobility skills such as walking or propelling a wheelchair

  • communication skills in speech and language

  • thinking skills such as memory or problem-solving

  • social skills for interacting with other people

Depending on the severity of the stroke, you may have rehab treatments in:

  • a rehabilitation unit in the hospital

  • a rehabilitation clinic

  • your home

  • a long-term care facility that provides therapy and skilled nursing care

What are the benefits?

Stroke rehab can help you and your family during a difficult time. And most insurance covers the cost of such programs.

  • 10% of stroke survivors recover almost completely.

  • 25% recover with minor impairments.

  • 40% have moderate to severe impairments requiring special care.

The most valuable benefits of stroke rehab are independence and improved quality of life.