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Stroke Rehabilitation - What to Expect After a Stroke

Recovering what was lost—the first steps

The brain is a remarkable organ that has the ability to rewire itself to some degree. Areas damaged by a stroke may be able to work again. And parts of the brain that have not been affected by the stroke may be able to take over for the damaged areas, doing some of the tasks formerly controlled by the affected areas.

Much of your improvement in motor functioning—walking, using your arms and legs—comes in the early phase of stroke recovery. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to start rehabilitation as soon as possible.

Your first stage of rehab usually begins 24 to 48 hours after your stroke, as soon as your health is stable and while you are in the hospital. For most people, rehab begins with the goal of getting out of bed and into a chair. As you gradually regain strength and function, nurses or therapists will help you regain skills and relearn tasks that were lost because of the stroke. The intensity and focus of initial rehab will vary with each person. It is a process based on your own needs. If you have other health problems (such as a heart condition, for example), you may need to go a bit slower than someone who was healthy before his or her stroke.

When you are ready for more intense therapy, your treatment may continue at a rehab facility. This may be in another part of the hospital where you were first treated, at a separate facility, or at home if it is safe for you and you have the right support. You may go to a skilled nursing facility if you are not well enough for a more intense program. Or a nursing home may be the best place for your rehab to continue. People who have the greatest desire to improve and who have a good support network of friends and family will be the most likely to improve with rehab, regardless of where the rehab takes place.

Recovering from a stroke can be very frustrating. It is common to face depression and have some setbacks. You may make strong improvement at first and then feel like you have lost some of what you gained. Overcoming problems with speech and language may seem very slow, because it may be hard for you to measure your progress. You may feel a deep sense of grief for the loss of an active lifestyle prior to your stroke. But your stroke rehab team is there to help in as many ways as possible. Discussing your frustrations with the team and your family will be an important part of your recovery.

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