If you are a stroke survivor or have a loved one who is, chances are you have a lot of questions about the recovery process. Since every stroke patient is different, there simply are no easy answers as to how fast or how far recovery will progress, but you should know that there are things you can do to help ensure that recovery potential is realized to the very fullest. With that in mind, here are 3 tips for stroke recovery.
1. Get started with an intensive rehabilitative therapy program as quickly as possible
Early, intensive rehabilitative therapy has been shown to improve levels of recovery, so rehabilitation should begin as soon as is medically safe and feasible. In fact, physical and occupational therapy are often initiated before hospital discharge.
Additionally, research has shown that therapy provided by a well-coordinated, multidisciplinary team of rehabilitative specialists and in a therapeutic environment can make a substantial difference in recovery, which is why an intensive inpatient program may be your best place to start your rehabilitation journey. That's because effective stroke recovery and rehabilitation centers on retraining the brain to work around the damage it has sustained from stroke. That, according to researchers, is most effectively done with intensive daily physical and occupational therapy sessions that include repetitive, task-specific motion training to stimulate the growth of new neural pathways and connections in the brain.
2. Working on deficits, rather than always working around them, can improve recovery results
Stroke survivors who spend time in occupational therapy are taught how to compensate for functional deficits, or physical impairments, that result from stroke. While learning to work around those deficits is very important, if optimal recovery is your goal, so too is working to improve them. That's why occupational therapy professionals also stress the importance of exercising, moving and using limbs on your affected side that may be weakened or even paralyzed by stroke. By moving and using affected arms, legs or hands, you help the brain begin to relearn how to make them work properly, increasing the odds of regaining strength and function. So don't forget about your weaker side as you go about your daily routines. While always using your stronger side may get things done more quickly and efficiently over the short term, over the long run, it can limit your level of recovery.
3. Don't buy into the "recovery plateau" myth
It was once commonly believed that there was a distinct window of recovery for stroke patients. This was based on the idea that improvement came to a halt once the physical healing of tissues in the brain had occurred. This led to the assumption that the level of recovery a patient had achieved within 6 months was the best that patient could hope for, and further therapy would not be productive.
However, that idea of the "recovery plateau" has long been discredited by advancing knowledge of neuroplasticity—which is the brain's ability, as noted above, to forge new pathways and connections to take over some of the functions that were once performed by the areas of the brain affected by stroke. It is now known that continuing therapy, especially speech and occupational therapy, can continue to yield functional improvements over many months, even years in stroke survivors. So don't let outdated ideas about stroke recovery and rehabilitation limit your potential.