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What Does The Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Journey Look Like?

According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and can cause more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says strokes affect more than 800,000 people a year. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the part of the brain is interrupted, which prevents brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. When this happens, brain cells can die within minutes. In some cases, brain cell damage is temporary but permanent in others. Nearly 10 percent of stroke survivors will recover completely while another 10 percent will rely on long-term nursing home care. For stroke survivors, post-stroke rehabilitation is an essential part of recovery that addresses any complications and disabilities that occur as a result of the event. 

Stroke-Related Disabilities

When a stroke occurs, different areas of the brain can become damaged. There are several disabilities and consequences that can follow a stroke depending on the affected area of the brain. Here are a few of the most common types of disabilities experienced by those affected by stroke:

  • Motor control. Some individuals may have issues with movement and sensation in the aftermath of a stroke. Paralysis, loss of movement, weakness on one side of the body, and paralysis on one side of the body are common occurrences. In addition, some people may experience difficulty with swallowing and loss of control in their body movements such as walking and balance.
  • Sensory loss and pain. It’s common to develop sensory issues such as losing the ability to feel touch, pain, and temperature. Some stroke survivors may also experience pain, numbness, and tingling in a limb. Loss of bladder control and mobility are also common.
  • A decline in language skills. Nearly one-fourth of all stroke survivors will experience difficulty in understanding verbal and written communication, speaking, and writing. While some individuals may lose the ability to speak or write the words they are thinking, others may lose all of their linguistic abilities.
  • Problems with memory and thinking.  A stroke will often damage the part of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and awareness. This can affect one’s attention span or cause deficits in their ability to learn new information. After a stroke occurs, individuals may have difficulty making plans or following directions.
  • Emotional disturbances. Stroke can interfere with one’s emotional health. Many individuals experience fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, and grief post-stroke. Depression, or a consistent feeling of hopelessness, is also common in stroke survivors, especially for those who have lost some of their independence as a result.

What is Post-Stroke Rehab?

Rehabilitation after a stroke can look different for each individual. When creating a post-stroke care plan, healthcare providers will determine which therapies are necessary depending on the severity of the stroke and the area of the brain which was affected. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the most common activities involved in post-stroke rehabilitation:

  • Motor skill exercises. Stroke can interfere with mobility, balance, and coordination. Rehabilitation works to improve strength and coordination, while also focusing on regaining basic skills like eating and swallowing.
  • Mobility training. After a stroke, many individuals have difficulty walking on their own. Therapists often introduce mobility aids such as a walker, cane, wheelchair, or ankle brace to help stabilize body weight while relearning how to talk.
  • Flexibility and range of motion. It’s common for stroke survivors to experience muscle rigidity and tension as a result of the event. Certain exercises and therapies are used to decrease muscle spasticity and improve flexibility and range of motion.
  • Cognitive disorders. Occupational therapy is used to help regain cognitive abilities such as memory, processing, problem-solving, social skills, judgment, and safety awareness. In addition, speech therapy is used to help regain any lost ability related to speech, listening, writing, and comprehension.

Post-Stroke Care Teams

Stroke rehabilitation can look different on each individual, but most often involves a variety of specialists who address physical, cognitive, emotional, and vocational deficits. Here are a few of the specialists you can expect to meet throughout the post-stroke rehabilitation journey:

  • Physicians. Your primary care physician will help create your individualized care plan to ensure your recovery and prevent any complications. In addition, your physician will work with you to create lifestyle changes that will help decrease your risk of stroke in the future.
  • Rehabilitation nurses. Nurses who specialize in stroke recovery work with stroke survivors to help them relearn how to complete tasks with their new limitations. Rehabilitation nurses offer options for bladder and bowel control, eating, sitting, and standing. 
  • Physical therapists. Physical therapists specialize in treating disabilities related to motor and sensory impairments. Physical therapists evaluate and treat stroke-related problems with movement, balance, and coordination.
  • Occupational therapists. These specialists work to improve motor and sensory abilities while helping patients relearn skills needed to perform daily activities like toileting, bathing, preparing meals, and house cleaning.

Where to Receive Rehabilitation Services  

Before being discharged from a hospital after suffering from a stroke, your health care provider and hospital social worker will help you navigate your options for rehabilitation. While many stroke survivors return home, others move into rehabilitation facilities for either long or short-term stays. Here are a few places stroke survivors choose to receive rehabilitation:

Inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Most hospitals are affiliated with rehab facilities or may even have one of their own. Some stroke survivors plan on staying between two and three weeks at an inpatient rehabilitation facility. While there, individuals will undergo intense rehabilitation sessions that utilize specialized equipment and individualized attention.

Outpatient rehabilitation. Some stroke survivors who have less severe deficits may opt for outpatient rehab while doing most of their recovery at home. While this option offers the same oversight from specialists, outpatient rehab is often less demanding on the individual and usually requires between one and three sessions per week.

Skilled nursing facilities. These facilities offer a wide variety of care in a residential setting. Skilled nursing facilities offer fewer hours of therapy than traditional inpatient rehab, but still provide physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. Stroke patients who need inpatient care but cannot tolerate intensive therapy sessions should consider a stay at a skilled nursing facility. 

Post-Stroke Rehab at Maplewood Senior Living

Recovering from a stroke can be a long and complex process, so it’s important to become familiar with the warning signs of stroke. At Maplewood Senior Living, our skilled nursing and rehabilitation services provide a comprehensive continuum of clinical care to meet our residents’ individual wellness goals. Our compassionate team will get to know you or your loved one personally, so we can provide support and lifestyle programming that enhances your quality of life. Whether you opt for long-term or short-term rehab, our medical team will provide the care you need to live the life you want. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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