Overcoming the Challenges of Post-Stroke Recovery
By TeleSpecialists neurologist, Dr. Joshua Johnson
Having a stroke can be frightening and discouraging. You may not be able to walk, speak, or swallow as well as you could before the stroke. Perhaps you now need help with tasks that were easy before. You may feel more dependent on your family and friends. You may have lost some of your independence.
You may feel discouraged after your stroke, but there is reason for hope. As you leave the hospital after a stroke, remember you are still very early in the recovery process. You may initially notice little or no improvement in your symptoms because the brain heals slower than other organs, but it does heal, and your symptoms will improve. Most progress is seen in the first six months after a stroke, but improvement may continue even after that time.
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/swallow therapy can help you maximize your recovery. Be as physically and mentally active as possible, but don’t overdo it. Your therapist can help you find your ideal level of activity.
Be kind to yourself. You may lose patience with your inability to do some things that came easily before but treat yourself and your brain gently. Give yourself a break when you make mistakes. Let others help you. Accept that, for a time, you will be a little less competent than you wish. Don’t push yourself too quickly. Your body and brain know best your proper recovery speed; listen to them. If the physical therapist recommends a walker or cane, then use it, even if you prefer not to: you may not need it forever, and using an assist device now may prevent a fall, a fracture, a concussion, or another emergency room visit.
Take the time to improve your overall health. People who have had a stroke are at higher risk for a second stroke, but this risk can be decreased. Visit your primary care physician for help with controlling blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Maintaining your general health will help in stroke recovery.
Exercise, even a little bit, every day, be it a walk across the living room, down the driveway, or around the block. Your brain, body, and mood will thank you. Stop smoking, get good sleep, and take your medications. Have a plan in case of an urgent medical problem, keeping handy a list of people to call for help (your family, friends, primary care physician, or ambulance) and where to go (primary care, urgent care, or emergency room).
No one can tell you exactly how you will feel in six months; every person’s stroke healing process is unique. However, healing can occur in many ways. Be patient with yourself, exercise, maintain your general health, and be safe. Lean on those who are here to help you—your family, friends, therapists, and physicians—as your brain and body recover over time.