A stroke can be a devastating life event, whether it happens personally or to a loved one, but understanding stroke recovery can help manage realistic expectations. When a brain artery bursts or a clot travels to the brain, a mild to massive stroke occurs. This deprives the brain of a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood, and it may impair speech and limit physical mobility and motor skills. It is not something that can be overcome by sheer will. Immediate medical care, ongoing rehab and at-home caretakers are necessary every step of the way.
Expectations for the recovery process
There are several areas that are most commonly affected by a stroke event. Understanding what can realistically happen afterward may help a patient stay on track for the best possible outcome. These are five of the most frequent concerns to address:
1. Regaining speech
The most common speech problem following a stroke is called non-fluent aphasia. This refers to the patient's ability to process thoughts but not have the capability to communicate them. Since there may be other reasons a person experiences problems speaking after a stroke, a careful diagnosis is required. Most patients will need to “rewire” their brains, which is a task that requires a great deal of practice, help and persistence.
2. Learning to walk again
Although many stroke sufferers may regain the ability to walk again after about six months of rehabilitation, there are some who will take longer or who may not walk again at all. With consistent effort, someone who suffers a mild stroke has a good chance of regaining a normal gait. Stroke recovery after a massive event will take longer and may result in issues with a limp, a foot that drags or balance problems. Intensive physical therapy is essential in regaining the competency to walk independently.
3. Restoring memory loss
Since the stroke can be a relatively traumatic brain event, the extent to which memory is affected is unpredictable. That can depend on the seriousness of the stroke, the location in the brain and how quickly help is received. Some people may forget names or faces, past events or lose long-term memories. Therapy is important, as well as mnemonics, or word associations, to help the brain relearn to store and retrieve information.
4. Dealing with personality changes
Confusion, altered behavior and emotional changes are common side effects many stroke patients have to deal with. In some cases, mild to severe psychosis and anxiety may also occur. As with memory loss, the level of damage depends on the severity of the stroke and what area in the brain it occurs. Therapy and rehab can help, and medications may be needed temporarily or permanently to manage symptoms.
5. Preventing a reoccurrence
The unfortunate truth is that having a stroke can increase the likelihood of experiencing another one for many people. Working hard at stroke recovery and maintaining good nutrition, sleep and activity levels can help reduce the risk. Blood thinners and other medications may also be necessary.
When a stroke occurs, it can be a dark and frightening time. Understanding what to expect, seeking professional help and working toward stroke recovery can give the patient courage and motivation to persist.
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