Questions about recovery after stroke often elicit a common response from medical teams: “Every stroke is different, so every recovery will be different.” But what exactly does that mean?
You’re about to discover two reasons why every stroke is different. This information should help you ask better questions when consulting your doctor or therapist.
To get started, it helps to look at the location of the stroke.
Location, Location, Location
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to an area of the brain becomes compromised. Until the stroke is treated, the lack of oxygen-rich blood results in damage to the local brain tissue.
A stroke can occur anywhere within the brain, so different functions will be affected. No stroke is the same. The effects that occur will fluctuate from person to person based on where the stroke occurred and what functions that area of the brain controlled.
For instance, a stroke that occurs in the temporal lobe will create different secondary effects than a stroke in the parietal lobe, because each area of the brain controls different functions.
The area of the brain affected by stroke provides a strong clue about which stroke effects may occur.
However, even an expert on brain anatomy will have difficulty predicting the exact outcomes of a single stroke because every brain is wired a bit differently.
Brain Anatomy: Why Every Stroke Is Different
The brain is a large, complex organ. Each area of the brain controls different functions. For instance, one area controls language while a separate area controls arithmetic.
However, every brain is wired a bit differently, sometimes even drastically.
For example, the language center of the brain is generally understood to be located in the left hemisphere. This is why left hemisphere strokes often result in language difficulties like aphasia.
However, in some people that are left-handed, the language center is located on the opposite side, in the right hemisphere. This means that a left hemisphere stroke could leave language skills unaffected if the person is left-handed.
As you can see, every brain is different, which inevitably means that every stroke is different too. Still, every patient should ask about the location of the stroke, as it will still provide useful insight.
Although nothing is clear-cut, the good news is that no matter how your brain is organized or where the stroke occurred, recovery is possible.
How the Brain Is Capable of Changing Itself
Did you know that the brain can “bounce back” from injury like stroke through its own self-healing? This doesn’t always mean that everyone will make a full functional recovery, but typically some degree of improvement is possible.
Not too long ago, experts thought that the brain was incapable of change beyond the childhood years. Scientists used to claim that brain anatomy was fixed, and that the brain would only enter a state of slow deterioration after the formative childhood years.
This myth has since been dubunked. An excellent book on this subject is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD — it’s one of our top recommended books for stroke recovery.
Thanks to medical researchers like Doidge, we are now aware that the human brain is immensely capable of change. Not only is it constantly adapting and reorganizing itself throughout your entire life, but the brain can also bounce back from injury like stroke.
The process of the brain changing itself is called neuroplasticity. This is how stroke survivors can improve function after their injury.
Neuroplasticity allows functions that were once located in the damaged areas to be “wired over” to healthy areas of the brain. This is how rehabilitation aims to help stroke patients recover.
It requires immense effort on the patient’s behalf because the brain needs constant reinforcement to reorganize itself. However, stroke survivors have a chance at regaining lost skills with enough time, practice, and diligence.
Taking Charge of Your Recovery
The phrase “every stroke is different” has gained popularity due to the vast nuances in the size and location of stroke, along with the differences in brain organization across the population.
This means that understanding the area of the brain affected by stroke provides a strong clue about the secondary effects that may occur. However, it’s not a definitive answer. Instead, stroke patients should pursue highly individualized paths to recovery.
Although the ambiguities can be frustrating, patients should find hope in the brain’s innate and miraculous ability to recover from stroke and reorganize itself based on your hard work.