The short answer to this question is that it really is individual to each person. There is no one fits all answer when it comes to stroke recovery as there are so many variable factors.
If recovering fully looks like returning to your life as it was before the stroke, and for most people it does, then it’s a question that time will answer. But, that isn’t to say that there is no advice or best estimates that can be given on a one-to-one basis – it’s a well-researched area and studies like this one, have been carried out to try to build a predictability model for outcomes.
There have also been enough clinical trials conducted over the years to help clinicians, therapists and patients understand what types of rehabilitation work best and maximise the best possible outcomes for people that have had a stroke.
In this article we look at why stroke outcomes are so variable, current research, and what types of rehabilitation work best.
Variability In Stroke Outcomes
You would only have to speak to a relatively small group of people that have had strokes to acknowledge that recovery looks very different for some people. Some people can recover within weeks and others are left with lifelong disabilities. That’s of course, the people that have survived – stroke is a leading cause of death in the UK, causing around 38,000 to die each year. The number of people surviving strokes is going up due to better treatments and awareness. There are around 1.3 million people that have survived a stroke in the UK, according to the Stroke Association.
So why are outcomes from a stroke so different and why do some people recover faster than others?
Strokes happen when blood stops flowing to a part of the brain causing damage to brain cells, the damage can occur in any part of the brain and vary in severity – some strokes can be treated before more damage occurs and therefore the universal advice for suspected strokes is to act fast. Getting a person to the hospital as soon as possible is critical and can affect outcomes.
Here are the factors that can affect stroke outcomes and recovery:
- The type of stroke a person suffered (ischemic, haemorrhagic or another type).
- The region and side of the brain the stroke occurred and what body functions these brain areas relate to.
- The size of the damaged area, the time the area was without blood flow, and the time it took to receive treatment.
Post-stroke disabilities are extremely varied because of these factors – more so than any other type of condition. After a stroke, people can have difficulties with mobility, paralysis, balance, weakness, speech, incontinence, cognitive issues, depression and anxiety.
As mentioned, over a million people in the UK have survived a stroke, and stroke is now considered one of the leading causes of disability. Although lots of research has been conducted to determine stroke recovery outcomes, what recovery methods make a difference in outcomes, and the development of life-saving measures, according to many charities, including, Brain Research UK, access to good rehabilitation has not kept pace.
Access to appropriate rehabilitation is a vital part of recovery for stroke survivors to help reduce the number of lasting disabilities they are left with and increase their long-term independence.
Rehabilitation For Stroke Survivors
Usually, a person will spend up to a week in the hospital after a stroke. It is during this time and the following weeks that a person’s functionality will be assessed and a rehabilitation plan put into place. You don’t need to be back to full health to be released from the hospital after a stroke, most of your recovery will take place outside of the hospital, either at a rehabilitation clinic as an outpatient, or at home. In some cases, you may stay at a clinic as an inpatient to participate in an intensive rehabilitation programme.
It is generally accepted that the first three months after a stroke are the most important when it comes to rehabilitation – this is the period you are most likely to see the fastest improvements. Although, rehabilitation for stroke survivors can take place at any point after a stroke, even if you have been told you won’t make many more gains new methods and therapy techniques are being developed all the time. Therapy after the initial period can be slower and unfortunately, quite frustrating so your mental health and wellbeing needs must be met during this time too.
Stroke rehabilitation looks different for everybody, some people may need help learning to walk again, whilst others may have lost the use of one arm. Therapy will usually consist of a mixture of hands-on physiotherapy, exercise, and in some cases, robotic-assisted technology.
All the therapies at VIM Healthcare are centred around performing meaningful tasks to help clients restore as much normal movement as possible, leading to a happier, independent way of life.
After a stroke, some people can relearn walking, arm and leg movement, and other functions due to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s way of repairing itself after injury by ‘rewiring’ connections in a new way. For example, if a part of the brain is damaged that has affected the use of a right arm, through therapy, a new connection can be made to move this arm again.
Positive neuroplasticity can occur alone, but repeating exercises and movement encourage the process to happen sooner. That’s where robotic technology can help stroke survivors – if a person can move their arm very little, exercise can be slow and difficult. Assistive robotics can help a patient with more repetitions than they would be able to carry out alone.
Wellbeing and mindfulness are also important during rehabilitation – overall wellness helps with motivation and mindfulness during therapy sessions can also encourage healing.
To discover more about what stroke recovery looks like, you may find this Q&A with one of our post-stroke clients an interesting read.
Ready To Start Your Recovery?
If you or a loved one have suffered a stroke we encourage you to get in touch and book an initial assessment. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, with our multi-disciplinary team and wide range of services, we can help.