What is Involved in Stroke Rehabilitation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Stroke rehabilitation is a critical part of recovery for stroke survivors. While rehabilitation sessions cannot reverse the brain damage caused by a stroke, they can significantly improve quality of life for the patient, and promote independence and confidence while reducing the risk of another stroke by getting the patient active. This process can be quite involved, especially for people who have experienced severe damage, and it requires a good attitude from the patient, along with a very skilled rehabilitation team and a supportive network of family and friends.

The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.

A typical rehabilitation team includes a neurologist, a physical therapist, and a speech pathologist. Patients may also take advantage of psychologists, kinesiologists, and other specialists as they recover. Depending on the severity of the stroke, patients may undergo rehab in a hospital setting, a long-term care facility, an outpatient program, or at home. Patients with moderate damage might have a brief period of rehabilitation, while severe stroke cases may require months of therapy, with extended sessions every day.

A diagram of an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.
A diagram of an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.

Studies seem to suggest that the sooner stroke rehabilitation is initiated, the better things are for the patient. Rehabilitation can start within 24 hours, as soon as a patient is stabilized after a stroke, and it usually begins with movement exercises which are designed to get the patient moving. These exercises are also used to assess the severity of the brain damage. During future stroke rehabilitation sessions, the patient will have an opportunity to relearn various activities such as walking, eating, bathing, dressing, or speaking.

Stroke rehabilitation may involve the learning of sign language.
Stroke rehabilitation may involve the learning of sign language.

The rehabilitation team will also provide psychological support to the patient, along with specific types of therapy for issues like difficulty swallowing and speaking. In cases where brain damage has caused paralysis, inability to communicate, or other types of fundamental damage, the team will work with the patient to compensate for these issues. For example, a patient with a damaged left side might learn to perform left-handed tasks with the right hand during stroke rehabilitation, or a patient who cannot speak might learn sign language.

Physical therapy is often part of stroke rehabilitation.
Physical therapy is often part of stroke rehabilitation.

Memory exercises, games, and puzzles are an important part of stroke rehabilitation, as they help the brain remap itself to cope with the damage caused by the stroke. The team may also work with the patient to help him or her develop social skills, and to learn to deal with situations which may be made awkward by the presence of stroke damage. The goal is to restore as much function to the patient as possible, while educating the patient and the family about ways to reduce the risk of another stroke.

Stroke therapy may include ongoing psychological care.
Stroke therapy may include ongoing psychological care.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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