The experience of having a stroke is terrifying in the moment – and yet the unknown of what will happen afterwards can be just as disconcerting. The good news is over 80 percent of people survive stroke. The challenging news is that survivors’ daily lives may be impacted significantly. Stroke can impact all aspects of life—movement, communication, thinking, and autonomic functions such as swallowing. Research shows that early and specialized stroke rehabilitation can help optimize your physical and cognitive recovery and enhance quality of life. In this article, we’ll give you some clarity on what to expect, and some starting points on how to begin your journey to recovery.
Right after stroke | in the hospital
Many people spend anywhere from a few days to several weeks in an inpatient hospital following a stroke, depending on its severity and how quickly it was able to be treated. Symptoms during this time can include:
- Aphasia – temporary loss of language
- Cognitive challenges – difficulties with memory, attention and reasoning
- Physical components – can include one-sided weakness, paralysis, swallowing difficulties, or difficulty maintaining the breathing cycle.
Depending on these symptoms and any other medical conditions, you may be immediately discharged after a mild stroke, or may need to spend more inpatient time to get intensive care and stroke rehabilitation (think traditional hospital room with frequent nursing check-ins and doctors making rounds).
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What’s next? | stroke outpatient care
Some people are fortunate and can go straight home from the hospital to begin stroke rehabilitation. This depends on how severe the stroke was, and what types of symptoms are associated. For those who still require more care, but are now well enough to leave the inpatient hospital, there are several options, which your medical team, in consultation with your family, will help find the best fit:
- Long-term Acute Care Facility (LTAC) – this type of facility is equipped to deal with just about any medical condition, from feeding tubes to physical disabilities. You may spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months getting intensive therapy daily and the medical support you need.
- Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) – these facilities are definitely not just for older folks! SNFs deal with slightly less intense medical needs, but can still support some medical issues and are great for folks who need a lot of physical support. They also offer extensive therapy, helping you or your loved one get back on their feet quickly. Stays here can range in length from a few weeks to a few months.
- Home Healthcare – for some, having a nurse and/or other therapists visit them in the home is the most appropriate situation. The frequency of these visits depends on the severity of the situation (and unfortunately sometimes on cost and insurance coverage). Home care is appropriate for someone who either is able to be more or less independent, or has family around who can help them with any physical or medical issues they may have.
Continuing your recovery
Even if you go straight home from the hospital, you may need to receive additional outpatient therapy. This means it is medically safe to be at home without additional intensive care, but you still need further treatment to get back to your previous living skills. There are several types of outpatient therapy that may be appropriate after a stroke:
- Speech and language therapy – Speech-language pathologists work with you on speech (how easy it is to understand what people are saying), language (both using it and understanding it in spoken and written form), and cognition (being able to pay attention, remember both long-past events and recent occurrences, and make appropriate social and life judgments).
- Occupational therapy – Occupational therapists work on issues ranging from fine-motor skills to activities of daily living, to making sure that you can function well at home and in the community, providing adaptive supports where appropriate.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapists help you to get back the use of affected limbs, and help make sure you are staying safe physically during your recovery. They also can consult on any necessary tools, such as a cane or brace, that might be effective in moving your physical recovery forward.
- Frequent doctor check-ins – Whether it’s determining the cause of your stroke, or following up on pre-existing medical conditions that may put you at risk for another stroke, it is very important to work closely with your doctors to make sure you are doing everything possible to keep up your health. Eating well is one component of staying healthy and this blog post provides tips for eating well after stroke.
>> Download the printable PDF: Demystifying Stroke Infographic
Please don’t forget that speech-language pathologists specialize in treatment for post stroke swallowing disorders.
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