How to Help Stroke Survivors Regain Their Skills
A stroke can rob people of many physical and mental abilities. Depending upon the extent of the brain damage caused by the stroke, people may have trouble walking, speaking or engaging in daily activities like cooking, washing dishes and/or driving. Rehabilitation is possible and the extent of its success is highly individual. However, one thing is true for everyone: physical and mental exercise can improve stroke care, increasing the brain’s ability to respond to various signals from the body.
Remember that recovery is a lifelong process. Support groups are important to your loved one as he or she takes on a life of rehabilitation. Talking to others and sharing experiences will bolster your loved one’s courage and help to avoid feelings of isolation. Stroke survivors are resilient and communicating with each other is a key part of recovery. Your loved one may be angry, anxious or depressed after suffering a stroke. Fellow survivors can help your loved one to walk through those stages of recovery.
Although it is never a good idea to generalize on what recovery can be achieved by any one individual, the National Stroke Association reports the following statistics on stroke recovery:
- 10% of stroke survivors recover almost completely.
- 25% recover with minor impairments.
- 40% experience moderate to severe impairments requiring special care.
- 10% require care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility./li>
- 15% die shortly after the stroke.
You can help your loved one to regain skills after a stroke in the following ways:
Physical exercises: Arm, finger and leg exercises can help to regain movement, especially those needed to drive. Your rehabilitation center, physical therapist and/or occupational therapist probably practiced these exercises with your loved one while in rehab. It is important to continue these exercises regularly at home and to be patient. Your loved one is bound to get discouraged. Remind him or her of the goals that have been set and provide encouragement to continue with the exercises.
Speech exercises: If the stroke affected your loved one’s speech, he or she will continue to work with a speech and language therapist. You can support this work at home by continuing the exercises. If speech has been significantly interrupted, you will need to find new ways to communicate. Some words may be easy for your loved one to say while others may be impossible for him or her to recall or articulate. Develop sign language and other cues so that you can communicate. You want to avoid a situation where your loved one feels distraught or discouraged because you cannot speak to one another.
A stroke may cause aphasia which is difficulty expressing oneself verbally, trouble understanding speech and/or difficulty with reading and writing. There are different types of aphasia that will require different therapies to regain speech:
- Expressive aphasia. You know what you want to say, but cannot find the words you need.
- Receptive aphasia. You hear someone talking or see the printed page but cannot make sense of the words.
- People with anomic or amnesia aphasia, the least severe form of aphasia, have difficulty in using the right names for objects, people, places, or events.
- Global aphasia is the most severe, caused by widespread damage to the language areas of the brain. Stroke survivors with global aphasia cannot speak or understand speech, nor can they read or write.
Mental exercises. A stroke may affect memory, and some of that can be retrained. It is possible to improve memory loss over time. The most important reason to engage your loved one in mental exercises is to prevent another stroke. Some of the most effective exercises include:
- Learn a new skill or hobby. Learn to knit, paint, or do yoga. Hobbies that exercise both the body and the mind are most beneficial for stroke survivors.
- Exercise: Believe it or not one of the most beneficial mental exercises is physical exercise. Something as simple as walking can increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, improving memory and cognition.
Stroke home care and recovery is not an easy road but there is a lot of support available to you and your loved one. Rely on the therapists you met in rehab for ongoing support and call your loved one’s primary care physician if you need help.