Most people who’ve had a stroke can expect a hopeful future because of the many advances in treatment and rehabilitation. Fewer people die of stroke now than in the past. Effective treatments are also helping to prevent disability. Rehabilitation for stroke has made many advances in restoring much of a patient’s former functioning.
Stroke is a sudden and often catastrophic event that is the leading cause of long-term disability, and the fifth-ranking cause of death in the United States (US). Strokes affect more than 800,000 people every year in the US. About 10% of stroke survivors recover almost completely; 25% recover with minor impairments; 40% have moderate to severe impairment, and 10% require care in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home. About 70% of stroke survivors require rehabilitation. Let’s look at what happens in stroke rehabilitation programs.
What is a stroke?
There are two types of strokes:
Symptoms of stroke can include some or all of these:
Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any symptoms of stroke, even if they seem to come and go, or stop completely. Here’s a FAST way to check someone for possible stroke:
The longer a stroke goes untreated and the brain is deprived of oxygen, the greater the brain damage and disability. Getting immediate treatment can reduce brain damage, complications, and permanent disabilities.
Disabilities caused by stroke can include:
What is rehabilitation for stroke?
Rehabilitation for stroke, or "rehab," helps the patient work toward regaining as much function, independence, and quality-of-life as possible. Rehab helps you recover from the effects of stroke, relearn skills, and develop new ways to do things. Most rehab focuses on physical problems to restore physical functioning, but it can also include physical, emotional, social, and spiritual help.
Equally important in rehab is protecting the patient from developing medical problems such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, injury due to fall, or clot formation in large veins.
Research has documented that stroke recovery was more complete for patients who participated in a focused stroke rehabilitation program, compared to patients who did not participate.
The brain has the ability to rewire its circuits after a stroke. Functions that are controlled in specific areas of the brain that were damaged by the stroke, can move to other brain regions (neuroplasticity). This can promote improved function over months to years. Even though rehabilitation doesn’t reverse brain damage, it can substantially help a stroke survivor achieve the best long-term outcome.
Stroke rehab works best when the patient, family, and rehab staff work together as a team. Family members need to learn about the physical and mental changes caused by stroke, and how to help the patient regain as much functional ability as possible.
Realistic rehabilitation goals depend on these factors:
Each patient’s needs are unique. Stroke rehab treatment plans vary but each is designed to meet a patient’s unique needs. Some of the more common rehab tasks include:
What happens during rehabilitation for stroke?
Your individual rehab plan will depend on your degree of disability and parts of your body the stroke affected.
Physical activities to improve functioning can include:
Technology-assisted physical activities include:
Cognitive and emotional activities may include:
How soon after the stroke does rehabilitation begin?
The sooner rehab can begin, the better the patient’s chances of recovering skills and abilities. Generally, it can begin within two days of the stroke, if the patient’s condition is stable. It usually continues after leaving the hospital.
Where can I get rehabilitation for stroke?
Rehabilitation for stroke is provided in many different facilities. Many people start their rehabilitation while still in the hospital. Your stroke rehab options include:
Your doctor can advise you about the best option for your needs after hospital discharge. Ask these questions for each facility you are considering:
How long does rehabilitation for stroke last?
Most stroke survivors need some form of long-term stroke rehabilitation. Rehab can last months or years after the stroke. The length of rehab depends on how severe your stroke was and if you had any complications. Your rehab treatment plan will likely change during rehab as you relearn skills and your needs change. Patients who continue to work on their rehab plan can continue to make improvements over time.
Does health insurance pay for rehabilitation for stroke?
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll work with hospital social workers or discharge planners, and your care team to determine your best rehabilitation setting that your health insurance will pay for.
Who provides rehabilitation for stroke?
Stroke rehabilitation involves a variety of specialists:
What factors affect the outcome of stroke rehabilitation?
Stroke recovery varies widely from person to person. It's hard to predict how many abilities you’ll recover and how long it will take. Recovery can be a difficult, long and frustrating experience. Improvement can continue for a year to 18 months after the stroke if the patient works hard both in and outside of rehab sessions.
In general, successful stroke rehabilitation depends on: