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Cerebellar Stroke Recovery: How to Prepare Yourself for the Road Ahead

clay model of brain to illustrate cerebellar stroke recovery

Cerebellar strokes are rare, accounting for less than 2% of all strokes. This means that cerebellar stroke patients must be diligent about asking the right questions during recovery.

To help prepare your for the road recovery, you’re about to learn the unique symptoms and side effects that may occur after a stroke in the cerebellum.

You’ll also discover the best practices for rehabilitation along with a rough timeline to help you ask better questions next time you see your doctor.

Symptoms of Cerebellar Stroke

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is compromised by either a clogged artery or burst artery. When stroke happens in the cerebellum, it’s called a cerebellar stroke.

The hallmark symptoms of a stroke include facial drooping, weakness in one arm, and slurred speech. However, cerebellar stroke often results in much different symptoms, which should be treated as a medical emergency.

Signs and symptoms of cerebellar stroke include:

  • Vertigo*
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Vision problems

*About 3% of people rushed to the emergency room for vertigo are actually having a cerebellar stroke. Doctors should be encouraged to order brain scans when patients show signs of vertigo.

Next, we’ll talk about the cerebellum and the potential side effects of cerebellar stroke.

Side Effects of a Stroke in the Cerebellum

man speaking to woman but the woman has a question mark over her head to signify a language difficulty

Generally, the cerebellum is known to control coordination of voluntary movements, maintenance of balance and posture, motor learning, and cognitive functions such as language.

When a stroke occurs in the cerebellum, it can damage any or all of these functions.

Notably, cerebellar strokes often lead to impairments in motor control and posture, because the majority of the cerebellum’s outputs are to parts of the motor system.

However, other side effects are possible. Here are the most common side effects of a cerebellar stroke:

  • Acute cerebellar ataxia: a lack of control over voluntary movements
  • Loss of coordination and balance: which usually results from ataxia
  • Vertigo: feeling like the world is spinning
  • Nausea and vomiting: which can stem from other cerebellar stroke side effects like vertigo
  • Cerebella cognitive affective syndrome: involves executive, linguistic, and visual spatial impairments
  • Impaired memory: cerebellar strokes do not erase memory, but they can impair ability to recall information
  • Difficulty with proprioception: not knowing where your limbs are in relation to the world around you
  • Speech problems like aphasia or ataxia of speech

Cerebellar stroke patients should work closely with their rehabilitation team to diagnose and rehabilitate as much of the after math as possible.

When inpatient and outpatient therapy is not adequate, patients need to participate in at-home therapy as well.

Before we discuss rehabilitation methods for cerebellar stroke recovery, let’s preview the prognosis.

Prognosis for a Stroke in the Cerebellum

In the stroke rehabilitation field, we know one thing for certain: every stroke is different, and every recovery will be different.

No stroke is the same. Everyone’s brain is wired a bit differently, and every stroke affects the brain differently.

Although it’s hard to predict the outcome of any single stroke, there are 3 things that will affect the prognosis:

  • The size of the stroke: Was it a minor stroke, moderate stroke, or massive stroke?
  • The area of the brain affected by stroke: Was it just the cerebellum that was affected, or were other areas involved?
  • The appropriateness of rehabilitation: Were the best practices implemented? Was enough time and intensity spent on rehabilitation?

Work with your medical team to get these questions answered. For instance, you can gain insight about the size and severity of your stroke by asking if your NIH Stroke Scale score was measured at the hospital.

Even if you cannot get answers to these questions, you can still make the most of rehabilitation by following the best practices, which we will discuss next.

Cerebellar Stroke Rehabilitation Methods

physical therapist in scrubs helping cerebellar stroke patient walk through balance exercise

The appropriateness and intensity of rehabilitation makes a big difference in recovery. Taking the right steps can help patients maximize their outcomes.

Here are some of the best practices for rehabilitation after cerebellar stroke:

  • Physical therapy. When cerebellar stroke affects voluntary movement, physical therapy can help retrain the brain to control those muscles.
  • Massed practice. This mean practicing physical therapy exercises with high repetition. This intensity of rehabilitation helps stimulate the brain and spark neuroplasticity: the mechanism the brain uses to reorganize itself and learn new skills.
  • Core and balance training. Physical therapists may recommend specific core exercise and balance exercises for cerebellar stroke patients to practice at home. These problem areas may improve with daily exercises.
  • Speech therapy. When cerebellar stroke patients sustain language difficulties like ataxia of speech, speech therapy can help. A Speech-Language Pathologist can help diagnose your condition(s) and create an exercise plan suited for your specific needs.
  • Cognitive training. If executive function like memory has been affected, then cognitive training exercises may help. Apps like the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy App help address both speech and cognitive training.

When possible, enlist the help of a therapist or other qualified specialist for help. If your resources are limited, you can consult with a therapist for a limited time, and continue their best practices on your own at home.

The road to recovery can be short or long depending on the severity of your stroke and how intensively you pursue rehabilitation. Next, we will discuss the timeline in more detail.

Cerebellar Stroke Recovery Time

doctor holding clock to symbolize time for recovery

No one can say with certainty how long it takes to recover from stroke. Every stroke is different and every recovery is different.

However, the timeliness and intensity of rehabilitation make a difference.

During the first 3 months after a stroke, the brain is in a heightened state of plasticity. It recovers faster during this time, which explains why many patients experience a plateau after the 3 month mark.

Stroke patients also benefit from inpatient therapy during the first few months of recovery. Inpatient therapy is intensive and requires hours of therapy each day. This intense workload is another reason why stroke patients tend to recover rapidly in the beginning.

Unfortunately, the lack of adequate home therapy is one reason why many stroke patients are at the same level of recovery at the 5 year mark as they were at the 3 month mark.

You can avoid this severe slowdown in results by participating in a motivating at-home therapy program on a regular basis. For example, Flint Rehab’s FitMi home therapy suite encourages daily physical therapy exercise, which helps patients see faster results.

Other programs can help with speech or cognitive rehabilitation, such as the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy app.

Experiment with different methods until you find what works for you.

Recovering from Cerebellar Stroke

The most common side effects of a cerebellar stroke involve loss of balance and ataxia of speech. Fortunately, regular physical therapy and speech therapy, respectively, can help patients recover from these side effects.

Experts are not sure about the extent to which cerebellar stroke patients can recover. However, the brain is capable of amazing things. When the cerebellum becomes damaged, recovery is possible through the phenomenon of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity requires “massed practice” to get started and keep going. Inpatient therapy is not enough to help patients maximize their potential. Instead, a motivating at-home therapy regimen should be pursued for optimal results.

See how stroke patients are recovering at home with FitMi home therapy by reading the reviews.

Best of luck on the road to recovery.

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See how Susan is recovering from post-stroke paralysis

“I had a stroke five years ago causing paralysis on my left side which remains today.

I recently began using FitMi.

At first it was difficult for me to be successful with a few of the exercises but the more I use it, the better my scores become.

I have recently had some movement in my left arm that I did not have before.

I don’t know if I can directly relate this to the use of the FitMi but I am not having occupational therapy so I conclude that it must be benefiting me.

The therapy modality motivates me to use it daily and challenges me to compete against my earlier scores.

I heartily recommend it!-Susan, stroke survivor

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