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Stroke and Neurological Rehabilitation

Recovering from a stroke can be one of the greatest challenges a person will ever face. However, research shows that early and specialized stroke rehabilitation can help to optimize an individual's physical and cognitive recovery and enhance quality of life.

The minutes, hours and days that follow a stroke can be filled with fear and anxiety about the unknown. You or your family member who has suffered a stroke will be in a hospital, dealing with new terminology and making difficult decisions about treatment. Understanding what to expect from stroke rehabilitation can help alleviate some of these fears.

The First Hours and Days

A lot of the progress you will make in regaining movement and motor function will happen in the early stages after your stroke. As soon as you are medically stable, you will be encouraged to start rehabilitation – as soon as 24 to 48 hours after your stroke. You’ll start slow, attempting to sit up in your hospital bed and move to a chair if possible.

The brain has the ability to repair itself in some cases, or compensate by using other parts of the brain to take over functions that were once handled by areas damaged by the stroke. Challenging yourself in the early stages after your stroke – with the help of doctors, nurses, and rehabilitation specialists – will help to jumpstart this healing and recovery process.

The Weeks and Months After Your Stroke

Depending on the severity of your stroke and the areas of the brain affected, you may need ongoing therapy to help you make additional progress toward recovery. You will have a team of specialists at your side, including a physiatrist – a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and therapy. Your team will also include therapists, doctors and nurses – each with a specialized role to play in your recovery.

At this point in your recovery, you will work on improving your abilities through several different types of therapy, including:

  • Physical Therapy: Also called PT, physical therapy helps you regain gross motor skills like walking and maintaining your balance.
  • Occupational Therapy: Also called OT, occupational therapy focuses on regaining hand and arm movements to perform everyday tasks like bathing, eating and dressing yourself. Occupational therapists can also help you tailor your home and work environments to compensate for any changes in ability you may experience after a stroke.
  • Speech Therapy: During speech therapy, you will work on improving language, memory, thinking and communication problems.
  • Psychological Therapy: Recovering from a stroke is not only hard physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. A psychologist can help you deal with the stress, anxiety and depression that you may experience after your stroke.

A Lifetime of Continual Progress

Stroke rehabilitation is a lifelong process. You’ll gain strength, mobility and learn new ways to work around unavoidable limitations. You may also need to take medications or make lifestyle changes to help you avoid another stroke.

However, it won’t always be easy. You will experience frustrating times and setbacks, which is why it’s important to include building a support network as one of your goals for rehabilitation.

This support network may include family and friends who can help perform tasks you’re no longer able to do on your own. You’ll continue to work with doctors, nurses and therapists who can monitor and drive your physical, cognitive and emotional progress. You may also want to seek out support groups offered by the American Stroke Association or National Stroke Association for additional support and guidance.

In Their Words: Stroke Rehabilitation