A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a disease that causes part of the brain to die or be damaged due to poor blood supply. The brain is directly in control of so many actions and bodily processes, so when it is damaged, normal human functioning can be severely affected.
For instance, after a stroke, a person may not be able to control muscles on one side of the body, they may not be able to speak normally, and they can even have memory loss. The symptoms of a CVA can make a person lose a lot of their independent function. It is for this reason that stroke rehabilitation exists. This article will dive into more detail on recovery and rehabilitation for stroke patient, and what they aim to achieve.
What is stroke rehabilitation?
Because of the nature of a stroke, the functions that the damaged parts of the brain were responsible for are affected. This means that a person might experience varying levels of disability after a CVA.
Unlike many other parts of the body, the cells in the brain are not capable of regenerating on their own. Rehab for stroke patients attempts to rewire a function that was lost to other parts of the brain that were not affected.
Of course, this is a process that usually takes a lot of effort on the parts of the patient and the caregiver, and a lot of time.
Goals of stroke rehabilitation
Stroke rehabilitation does its best to improve the lives of people who have suffered a CVA, and it does this through various goals. Let’s talk about the major ones, as these are responsible for structuring what stroke rehab actually consists of.
Improving physical function and mobility
One of the significant aims of rehab is to improve physical function. Losing the ability to move one’s body as well as before, or even not being able to hold objects like a pen or cutlery firmly, can be enough to prevent independent living. This is why stroke rehabilitation will always target improving muscle strength and control.
Increasing independence in daily activities
Improving muscle function is one way to improve the independence of CVA patients, but it is not the only way. A cerebrovascular accident can affect speech and understanding and can come with symptoms like confusion and mood swings, and issues with problem-solving. All of these can get in the way of performing daily tasks as normal.
This is why one aspect of strokes recovery process, known as occupational therapy, aims to get patients back to performing daily activities on their own again.
Reducing the risk of future strokes
Once a person has had a stroke, the risk of another one in the future becomes significantly higher. In fact, one out of every four stroke patients will have another one. Recovery after stroke does not only aim to take care of the immediate effects of the CVA, but it also tries to prevent it from happening again by properly educating patients and their caregivers on the lifestyle changes that can be made.
Improving communication and cognitive abilities
A CVA can have major effects on communication — not just being able to speak, but being able to understand words too. Needless to say, this can be very frustrating for the patients and their caregivers, as needs and wants will be a lot more difficult to express. Cognitive factors, like memory, problem-solving, and concentration, can also be affected following a CVA. Repairing the deficits here is a major goal during rehab for stroke victim.
A stroke can bring several emotional and psychological issues. There can be mood swings, irritability, aggression, confusion, and even depression and anxiety, as after-effects of this disease. This is why psychotherapy may be an important consideration for people who have experienced a cerebrovascular accident.
Types of stroke rehabilitation
If you visit a proper stroke rehabilitation center, patients will receive multiple forms of therapy, each carefully structured to tackle the major deficits present. Not all patients will need all forms of therapy. Treatment is structured and personalized based on the specific individual being treated.
Now, let’s talk about the different treatments that can be used.
Because of the major disability that CVA can impose on muscle function and mobility, it is important to help the patient recover as much muscle strength and control as possible. This is the purpose of physical therapy for stroke rehabilitation.
Physiotherapists use specialized exercises to help stroke victims relearn a lot of the movements and muscle coordination that they are now deficient in.
The focus of occupational therapy is to reestablish and improve the ability to perform several daily tasks without assistance. The goal is usually to make it possible for a patient to eat, drink, dress up, write, read, and bathe without assistance. Occupational therapy may not always try to make things exactly how they were pre-stroke and may sometimes figure out strategies to work around the new deficits.
Rehab for stroke patients makes reestablishing effective communication essential. Speech therapy doesn’t only attempt to make it easier for patients to speak and verbalize accurately, but it also aims to improve their understanding of words that are spoken to them. Due to the importance of the tongue in speech, this treatment also focuses on improving swallowing. This can help with eating, and drinking, and help manage drooling.
It boosts a person’s cognitive functions like memory, problem-solving, concentration, and learning. It can do this using different techniques and exercises. This is one of the aspects of a stroke rehab program that can take a lot of effort from both the caregiver and the patient, so it is important to have patience at this point.
People who have had a CVA can also have to deal with psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. As many as two out of every three patients who have had a stroke may have depression. This might be a direct result of the stroke or a consequence of the heavy changes that such a condition imposes on daily life.
As a result, it is important not to forget to focus on improving the mental state of patients through psychological therapy, similar to what a normal person with depression or anxiety might receive.
Stem cells therapy
Under normal circumstances, recovery after stroke is a long and stressful process, involving different forms of therapy and potentially very slow results.
However, stem cell therapy for stroke recovery may provide a promising means of treatment. Instead of attempting to reconfigure the brain to work around the damage caused by the CVA, stem cells are capable of repairing the damage and stimulating the growth of new neurons following a stroke.
This provides patients with the option to repair the damage that exists in the brain, which when combined appropriately with other forms of therapy, makes it more likely to achieve a higher level of recovery. However, keep in mind that stem cells work differently in each individual and they don’t serve as a guaranteed cure for the symptoms of a stroke.
When it comes to recovery after stroke, everyone’s journey is different. The severity of the deficit that was initially present plays a big role, so getting fully back to action after a stroke can take anywhere between weeks to years.
However, for most people who have a CVA, the timeline of rehab and recovery tends to go something like this:
- The first day of the timeline, for most patients, is the day that the CVA happened and they present at the hospital.
- After about a week, most patients will return home after their stroke, though typically with significant disability compared to pre-stroke.
- In the first few weeks after a stroke, various forms of therapy will be initiated to attempt to rehabilitate the patient and restore independence.
- Between the first and third months after the CVA, there will usually be a lot of improvements seen in functioning. This is the most vital phase in terms of recovery. In some cases, patients may experience “spontaneous recovery” where a lost function suddenly returns. However, at the same time, there may be setbacks in this period, like another stroke or other health challenges.
- After six months, patients can still show improvements in their abilities, but the rate tends to slow down here. Most patients at this point will be close to their full level of function.
However, it is important to keep in mind that everyone is on their own journey when recovering from a stroke, so one person’s timeline can be very different from the next.
If you are looking for new or additional approaches on your journey of post-stroke rehabilitation, you may consider stem cell therapy to manage some common symptoms of the condition.
If you want to know more about what stem cells can do for stroke treatment, the timeline you can expect, and the cost of treatment, please contact us for a free medical consultation with one of our experts.
Medical Advisor, Swiss Medica doctor
List of References
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Sheena Borthwick. Communication impairment in patients following stroke. Nursing standard (Royal College of Nursing (Great Britain)), volume 26, issue 19, pages 35–41, 2012.
American Stroke Association. Preventing Another Stroke. (n.d.).
Nada E. Husseini et al. Cognitive Impairment After Ischemic and Hemorrhagic Stroke: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. Volume 54, issue 6, pages 272-291, 2023.
American Stroke Association. Post Stroke Mood Disorders. 2018.
Matthew R. Chrostek et al. Efficacy of stem cell-based therapies for stroke. Brain Research, volume 1722, article 146450, 2019.