If you feel lost or confused about what to expect after stroke, look no further. This article will explain some of the most important concepts for both patients and caregivers.
What to Expect After a Stroke
The stroke recovery process is different for every patient because every stroke is unique. After analyzing the data, we boiled down the best advice on what to expect after a stroke into these 15 tips:
1. Ask your neurologist about the location of your stroke
The location of your stroke has big implications on the secondary stroke effects you may experience. For example, when stroke occurs in the language center of the brain, it may result in language difficulties like aphasia. Knowing where the stroke occurred can help you create an action plan for recovery.
2. Don’t compare your recovery to others
Every stroke is different which makes every recovery different as well. Expect your stroke recovery timeline to be unique. Generally speaking, the larger the stroke, the longer it may take to recover. Being consistent with rehabilitation can give you the best chance at a speedy recovery.
3. Focus on neuroplasticity during all stages of recovery
When part of the brain is damaged by stroke, it’s possible to get healthy parts of the brain to take over. This process is known as neuroplasticity, the brain’s innate ability to rewire itself and form new neural connections. Rewiring the brain through neuroplasticity is how you will regain function after stroke. Your therapists will be using this concept throughout all of their treatments with you.
4. Use repetition to heal your brain
To activate neuroplasticity, your brain needs consistent, repetitive stimulation. Researchers call it “massed practice,” which helps reinforce new neural pathways in the brain. The more repetitions you practice of physical therapy exercises, for example, the better your brain will get at controlling your affected muscles.
5. Take advantage of the first 3 months of rapid improvement
You can expect the fastest gains to occur during the first 3 months of stroke recovery while the brain is in a heightened state of plasticity. After the 3 month plateau, recovery may slow down but it will not stop if you continue with consistent rehabilitation.
6. Don’t lose hope after small setbacks
Ups and downs are normal during stroke recovery and you should expect them. Progress isn’t linear. Sometimes post-stroke symptoms get worse before they get better, so don’t give up. If you experience any rapid declines in progress, though, seek emergency medical attention.
7. Pick things right back up after long breaks
If you stop rehabilitation, know that you can pick it back up at any point. We have seen patients as far as 24-years post-stroke continue with recovery! No matter how long it has been since your stroke, there’s always hope for recovery – even if decades have gone by.
8. Switch up your stroke rehabilitation methods
It’s important to find a stroke rehabilitation method that works for you. For example, some patients may benefit from mirror therapy more than others. But you won’t know until you try! Your therapists can help guide you through different rehabilitation methods that might be appropriate for you, and show you how to carry them over for use at home.
Going Home After a Stroke: What to Expect
Finally, there are several other things you should expect after stroke when going home.
9. Work with an OT to prevent falls by modifying the home
Many stroke survivors have trouble with balance, which increases the risk of devastating falls. To prevent falls, make appropriate home modifications for stroke patients, including removing clutter from walk areas, and installing grab rails and slip-resistant mats. Your occupational therapist (OT) will also have suggestions for adapting the home after stroke.
10 Caregivers, don’t do everything for your loved one
When stroke patients are discharged from the hospital or inpatient rehabilitation, family members may be overly anxious to help their loved ones. Try not to do too much. Be helpful and encouraging, but understand that stroke survivors need to do as much as they can on their own (within reason, keeping safety in mind), to keep recovering.
11. Get plenty of brain-rejuvenating sleep
After stroke, the brain is busy healing and rewiring itself. This takes a lot of energy! So when stroke patients crave lots of sleep after stroke, let them sleep! The brain needs to recover.
12. Keep distractions to a minimum
Keeping the television and talk radio on in the background can actually be very draining to a stroke survivor. Try to keep distractions to a minimum, and be patient.
13. Don’t let recovery stop when insurance stops
Once therapists cannot find “measurable signs of progress” in the clinic, insurance will likely end coverage. Don’t let this be the end of recovery. By stepping up your at-home therapy regimen with stroke rehab tools that encourage daily movement, you can keep improving. Recovery only stops when you stop.
14. Experiment with different therapies
Physical and occupational therapists often make excellent recommendations for outside or at-home treatments, so check with your PTs and OTs first. If they don’t offer anything exciting, then explore other supplementary stroke treatment options like mental practice, and even acupuncture. Electrical stimulation is another alternative treatment option, but you should receive some guidance from a therapist before utilizing it.
15. Strive for a full recovery
If your stroke was mild, then your chances of a full recovery are high. For massive stroke survivors, there’s still hope for a high recovery if you keep pursuing rehabilitation with consistency.
And that concludes our list of what to expect after a stroke. We hope that it helps prepare you for the road to recovery.