While it is true that stroke is a devastating and sometimes lethal event, it is important to remember that it is not always deadly. There are millions of stroke survivors alive today. Approximately 30 percent of stroke survivors incur some type of permanent disability. Therapies are available to help patients work towards recovery of lost functioning (in as much as that is possible) and to prevent them from experiencing future strokes. A diagnosis of stroke should be viewed as a wakeup call and not a death sentence.
In general, the severity of the stroke determines the amount of time a stroke patient will need to spend in post-stroke rehabilitation. The brain can be thought of as being composed of modules that each specialize in handling specific tasks. Some of these modules live on the right side of the brain and some of them live on the left side of the brain. Damage to any of these modules can result in a person becoming unable to perform the abilities that affected modules are responsible for. For example, stroke in the right side of the brain can lead to vision problems, paralysis of the left side of the body, and memory loss. Conversely, stroke on the left side of the brain can lead to right side paralysis, memory loss, and speech and language recognition and production problems. Physical tests and scans of stroke related damage can suggest the types of impairments patients are likely to experience, but neuropsychological assessment is necessary if the extent of impairments are to be accurately measured and mapped.
While the brain cannot grow substantial new tissue to replace dead areas, it can sometimes recruit and engage other areas and modules of itself to take over some of the functions formerly controlled by modules destroyed by stroke. Rehabilitative therapies can help with this process.
- Physical Therapy. Stroke-related physical impairments can often benefit from physical therapy. Physical therapists can help stroke patients to relearn important everyday activities such as sitting, standing up, walking, and balancing by having patients participate in specially designed exercises and stretches that promote muscle utilization and the formation of new learning in undamaged parts of the brain.
- Occupational Therapy. Occupational disabilities are also common stroke outcomes. Occupational activities are things healthy people generally take for granted, and include everyday activities like eating, drinking, using the restroom, preparing food, bathing, reading and writing. Unfortunately stroke survivors often end up losing the ability to smoothly perform some of these deceptively complex activities. Occupational therapists can help stroke-disabled patients to relearn these important activities of daily life to the greatest extent possible.
- Speech Therapy. Some stroke patients find that they have lost some of their ability to produce or understand speech and language. Patients may find that they can no longer understand written words, that they cannot pronounce words anymore, or that they can speak volumes of words but fail to convey the meanings they intend. Speech therapists can work with a stroke patient to help them regain some of their communication abilities to the extent that is possible.
Physical, occupational and speech therapies can be quite helpful for stroke patients, but they are ongoing processes and often require considerable time and expense. It is most helpful when stroke patients can lean on a strong support group of family and loved ones to provide encouragement during the often difficult rehabilitation stage.