Stroke Recovery Overview

May 6, 2016

Stroke Recovery Overview

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What is a stroke?

The simplest way to explain a stroke is a “brain attack”. A stroke occurs when blood flow is cut off to an area of the brain. This results in brain cells being deprived of oxygen, and those cells beginning to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, the abilities controlled by the area of the brain experiencing damage are lost.

In the United States, a stroke happens every 40 seconds, and almost 800,000 people are affected by a new or recurrent stroke every year. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the number one cause of adult disability.

How do strokes affect people?

The way a stroke affects someone is dependent upon where the stroke occurs in the brain, and how much damage the brain sustains. Smaller strokes can result in temporary weakness in an arm or leg while a major stroke can cause permanent damage such as paralysis, or loss of ability to speak.

There are many different ways which strokes can affect the body, mind, and feelings. Here are just a few examples of these effects:

  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Problems using language
  • Problems with memory, thinking, attention or learning
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Depression

Stroke recovery

Recovering from a stroke includes many steps including treatment, spontaneous recovery, rehabilitation and eventually the return to community living. Depending on how damaging the stroke was, or what section of the brain was affected, treatment will vary. Stroke treatment and the rehabilitation process are different for everyone.


Treating a stroke begins with acute care. This takes place in a hospital setting and the goal of acute care is to help the patient survive, prevent another stroke, and deal with any other medical problems. Doctors will determine the type of stroke, the location, and how much damage has been caused, as well as prevent or treat complications of the stroke.

People who have had a stroke find themselves at greater risk of having another stroke, especially in the year following the first stroke. Other risk factors for stroke include older age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, heavy alcohol or drug abuse, and more. By changing your lifestyle to reduce these risk factors, you can help prevent a stroke.

Spontaneous recovery

In the days, weeks, and months immediately following a stroke, you can expect what is called spontaneous recovery. This means that the abilities that were lost due to stroke will start to come back on their own as the brain heals. This process happens quickest in the first few weeks but continues for months, and different types of therapy can help enhance this recovery.


Before the acute care ends, the patient, family, and doctors will want to decide on a plan for rehabilitation. Not every patient will need rehabilitation, especially if their stroke was mild, or they have fully recovered. However, for more serious strokes, rehabilitation will be necessary.

There are many different types of rehabilitation programs that you and your loved one can choose from. The important thing to remember when choosing is to pick a program that will have all the right services.

Hospital programs

These programs are provided by either special rehabilitation hospitals or by rehabilitation units within a hospital. During the rehabilitation process, the patient will remain in the hospital and a team of specially trained health care professionals will provide the therapy.

Nursing facility programs

Rehabilitation programs taking place in nursing homes will differ from facility to facility. For an elder already in a nursing facility that is recovering from a stroke, this may be an option if their facility provides the needed services. Be sure to explore prospective facilities to determine if they have the complete range of rehabilitation services you need.

Outpatient programs

For patients living at home, outpatient programs allow these patients to a full range of rehabilitation services. This can be done in a hospital outpatient unit, outpatient rehab facility, or day hospital program.

Home-based programs

Another option for patients staying at home is to receive their rehabilitation services from visiting health care professionals. One major advantage of home-based rehabilitation services is that the patient can relearn skills in the same environment where they will be immediately put to use.

Individual programs

For patients that do not need a full range of rehabilitation services, they can access individual types of service such as speech therapy or physical therapy. Individual programs are available for home care or outpatient programs.


Stroke Recovery Overview
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