During the first weeks and sometimes months following a stroke, a patient’s’ speaking ability, mental clarity, and physical movements may improve. Though it depends on the person, these improvements can continue to increase several months, or possibly years, after the stroke.
While recovering, support and encouragement from friends and family, as well as the survivor’s own attitude, are vital to making progress. Different patients recuperate in a variety of ways, but there are specific milestones they and members of their support system should be looking out for.
What is a Stroke?
(source: Wikimedia – Blausen Medical Communications, Inc.)
- A stroke occurs when the blood flow to a section of the brain is stopped due to fragmented blood vessels or blood clots. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 795,000 people have a stroke each year in the United States.
Stroke Occurs- The Brain Reacts
- Recovery following a stroke starts as the brain responds to what’s happened. The brain’s functions will be adjusted to account for the the death or reduction of the affected area.
Three Hours In
- If a stroke victim receives medical attention within three hours of suffering the stroke they may be a candidate to receive medication to break up clots via an IV-drip. This clot-destroying medicine can significantly reduce negative long-term disabilities in the patient.
- The rehabilitation process begins after doctors have assessed and treated any critical conditions in the patient, and taken precautionary steps to prevent additional complications. This means rehabilitation could begin during the patient’s first hospital visit, which will increase the likelihood of recovering damaged body and brain function.
- Range of motion exercises, changing positions (seated or lying down), and, if possible, standing or walking will be encouraged by the doctor.
- After leaving the hospital the patient will either go to a nursing facility, inpatient rehabilitation center, or straight back to their home. Each stage of recuperation is designed to help the survivor reclaim their independence and return home as soon as possible.
- Following the return home, therapy will continue in an outpatient facility or during in-home visits. Some patients may also do rehab on their own using home-therapy tools or following videos online.
- The first five to six weeks of stroke recovery are the most intensive. During this time patients will go through inpatient or outpatient therapy, contingent on their condition and accessibility to a rehabilitation center.
- Intense physical and occupational therapy will take place five or six days per week. There may also be the (more expensive) option of receiving in-home physical and occupational therapy treatment. This is optimal for elderly patients without access to a local treatment center.
- The first three months of recovery are when a patient will see the most improvement, and gains may happen rapidly over time. Some stroke survivors will continue to improve after this period, however, If the brain stem was affected during the stroke recovery could take up to a year or even longer.
- Although they do not occur as rapidly as they did during the first three months, the majority of improvements happen within the first six months of the initial stroke. A stroke survivor’s ability to improve during this period relies on their individual effort and the support of their friends, family, and doctors.
- For stroke survivors who suffer from aphasia (25 to 40 percent) it can take up to two years to fully regain their speaking ability.
The Challenging Path to Stroke Recovery
While every stroke survivor has a different and challenging path, this timeline covers the major milestones that they can expect during the recovery process. It is important to realize that it will take constant and consistent work and relearning, as well as adjustments and help from family and friends, for stroke patients to successfully recover.
Stats on Recovery
- 10% of stroke survivors recover almost completely
- 25% recover with minor impairments
- 40% experience moderate to severe impairments requiring special care
- 10% require care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- 15% die shortly after the stroke