How a person is affected by a stroke and their subsequent recovery is different in every case.

However, according to the Mayo Clinic, all stroke victims should include a rehabilitation program in their healing process if they hope to achieve optimum results. Researchers there have found that people who participate in a focused stroke rehabilitation program have better results than people who do not participate in stroke rehabilitation.

“Recovery can go on for many months following a stroke, so it’s important to begin rehab as soon as possible,” says Erin Wuerz, a therapy director with RehabCare, part of Kindred Rehabilitation Services. RehabCare provides rehabilitation services nationwide, including at Bethesda skilled nursing and rehab & therapy communities, helping seniors rebuild their lives physically and emotionally in the wake of a debilitating stroke. “Every patient’s recovery process is different. The professionals on a therapy team are trained to guide you through to the best results possible.”

According to Erin, much of the recovery occurs in the first three or four months after a stroke happens. Occasionally improvement can continue for one or even two years.

How a Stroke Affects the Body & Mind

One of the reasons a stroke requires a coordinated rehabilitation program is because it can cause multiple health issues at the same time, leaving its victim not only with physical but also emotional and cognitive issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical effects of a stroke include difficulty swallowing, fatigue, foot drop, hemiparesis, incontinence, pain, paralysis, seizures, spasticity, and damaged vision. Emotionally, a stroke can cause depression, including feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, and the pseudobulbar affect, a condition identified by outbursts of uncontrollable laughing or crying. Cognitively, stroke victims may have trouble expressing themselves, also known as aphasia, as well as memory loss and vascular dementia.

Physical and occupational therapies can help seniors recover after a stroke and regain function or learn new ways to accomplish activities of daily life. Speech language therapy can help with cognitive effects of stroke such as problems speaking, problems understanding others, or problems with memory.

“Therapists are also trained to recognize emotional disturbances that can come as a result of a stroke,” Erin says. “It’s only natural for someone to become depressed or anxious when they are unable to do things that they once could. There’s a ‘grieving’ process that can occur for people who have experienced a severe change in their ability to function. Therapists can pick up on these emotions and help to refer the patient to a mental health professional.”

Who Are the Members of a Stroke Rehab Team?

  • Physicians. Your primary care doctor—as well as neurologists and specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation—can guide your care and help prevent complications. These physicians can also help you to gain and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors to avoid another stroke.
  • Rehabilitation nurses. Nurses who specialize in caring for people with limitations to activities can help you incorporate the skills you learn into your daily routines. Rehabilitation nurses can also offer options for managing bowel and bladder complications of a stroke.
  • Physical therapists. These therapists help you relearn movements such as walking and keeping your balance.
  • Occupational therapists. These therapists help you relearn hand and arm use for daily skills such as bathing, tying your shoes or buttoning your shirt. Occupational therapists can also address swallowing and cognitive issues, and safety in your home.
  • Speech-language pathologists help stroke patients with memory, thinking, swallowing, and communication and language skills.

Rehabilitation Options Vary

Rehabilitation actually starts in the hospital as soon as possible following a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. In patients who are stable, rehabilitation may begin within two days after the stroke has occurred and should be continued as necessary after release from the hospital.

Depending on the severity of the stroke, rehabilitation options can include:

  • Inpatient rehab therapy in the hospital
  • A subacute care unit
  • A rehabilitation hospital with individualized inpatient therapy
  • Home therapy
  • Outpatient therapy at home
  • A long-term care facility that provides therapy and skilled nursing care

According to the American Stroke Association, the long-term goal of rehabilitation is to improve function so that the stroke survivor can become as independent as possible, which must be accomplished in a way that preserves dignity and motivates the survivor to relearn basic skills that the stroke may have impaired—skills like bathing, eating, dressing and walking.

What are the Odds of a Complete Recovery After a Stroke?

While many people who suffer a stroke recover completely after rehab, about 40% of patients have mild to moderate disabilities that remain present for the rest of their life.

It is important that caregivers rely on professional help as they assist their loved one in their recovery. Strokes may cause jarring changes in the personality and temperament of their victims who may also have difficulty controlling their emotions. Signs of improvement can be fleeting and depression is a concern for about 50% of stroke sufferers.

“Don’t be afraid to rely on your rehab team for help and advice,” Erin says. “They will evaluate what’s going on to point you in the right direction, and they know what resources are available to you. With a rehab team, you’re never alone.”

If you or your senior loved one have recently suffered a stroke, consider rehab and therapy services to prevent future injuries. Contact us to learn more about Bethesda’s rehab and therapy services for seniors in St. Louis.