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What is stroke rehabilitation?
The best way to get better after a stroke is to start stroke rehabilitation ("rehab"). In stroke rehab, a team of health professionals works with you to regain skills you lost as the result of a stroke. Rehab can help you to:
- Do as well as you can and be as independent as possible.
- Learn to live with the changes to your brain and body caused by the stroke.
- Adjust to living within your home, family, and community.
Rehab starts while you are still in the hospital. After you leave the hospital, you can continue treatment at a rehab center or at home. Some rehab programs offer at least 3 hours of therapy a day, 5 or 6 days a week.
A key part of rehab is taking steps to prevent a future stroke. To stay in good health, you may need to take medicines and make some lifestyle changes. Work with your rehab team to decide what type of exercise, diet, or other lifestyle choices are best for you.
You have the greatest chance of regaining your abilities during the first few months after a stroke. So it is important to start rehab soon after a stroke and do a little every day.
Who is on a stroke rehab team?
You and your family, loved ones, and caregivers are the most important part of the rehab team. A team of health professionals will work with each other, you, and your caregivers to help you recover from a stroke. A rehab team may include doctors and nurses who specialize in stroke rehab, as well as rehabilitation therapists such as:
- A physical therapist to work on problems with movement, balance, and coordination.
- An occupational therapist to help you practice eating, bathing, dressing, writing, and other daily tasks.
- A speech-language pathologist to help you relearn speech and language skills and also help if you have problems with swallowing.
- A recreational therapist to help you return to activities that you enjoyed before the stroke.
- A psychologist or counselor to help you deal with your emotions.
- Other health professionals, such as a dietitian to help you plan a healthy diet and a vocational counselor to help you find a job or get back to work.
A social worker or case manager will help you and your caregivers arrange for the help and equipment you may need at home after you leave the rehab center.
What kinds of problems can people have after a stroke?
The problems you have after a stroke depend on what part of your brain was affected and how much damage the stroke caused. People who have had a stroke often have:
- Problems with movement and sensation. You may have pain, numbness, or tingling in your arms and legs; muscle stiffness or spasms; weakness; and trouble with walking and moving. You may have problems with your sense of touch or how well you feel hot and cold, trouble swallowing and eating, and urinary or bowel problems.
- Problems with vision. You may have problems seeing in some or all of the normal areas of vision.
- Problems with not being aware of one side of your body. If you don't look to that side, you may forget or ignore that side of your body.
- Problems with language and thinking. You may not be able to understand written or spoken language, read or write, or express your thoughts. You may also have problems with memory and learning.
- Emotional problems. A stroke can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and grief, both for survivors of a stroke and their loved ones.
Does a stroke cause permanent problems?
A stroke damages parts of the brain that control different things in the body, such as speech and movement. But other parts of the brain can take over for the damaged areas. Many people are able to get back most of the skills and abilities they lost.
Some people do have permanent problems after a stroke. But rehab can help you learn new skills that will help you take care of yourself as much as possible.
How long does rehab take?
For most people, rehab is a lifelong process. The road to recovery can be long and frustrating, so keeping a positive outlook is key. Try everything you can to get better, and get relief from pain if you need to. Your stroke rehab team is there to help in as many ways as it can. A strong support network of family and friends is also very important.
You may recover the most in the first few weeks or months after your stroke. But you can keep getting better for years. It just may happen more slowly. And it may take a long time and a lot of hard work. Don't give up hope.
What else should you think about?
- It is common to feel sad and hopeless after a stroke. It may be hard to deal with your emotions. Tell your rehab team how you feel. Get treatment for depression if you need it.
- It is important to get the support you need. Let your loved ones help you. Get them involved in your treatment. Talk to others who have had a stroke, and find out how they handled problems.
- A stroke affects your loved ones too. They may be as scared and worried as you are. Urge them to find a caregiver support group and learn ways to relieve their stress.
- You may have questions or concerns about having sex again. Rehab may include help and support.
- Medical insurance may not cover the rehab or devices you need after you leave the hospital. Have a caregiver check on Medicare or other programs.