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Elderly man and woman doing stroke recovery by playing catch with caregivers

Recovery after stroke – Regaining life, function and independence

Call it a brain attack, a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), or a transient ischemic attack, a stroke by any other name still induces dread among the best of us. And the fear is justified. Stroke is the number one cause of long-term disability world-wide. 

While the odds of surviving a stroke are in your favor, the loss of cognition, mobility, and the ability to perform daily living tasks, like bathing, dressing, or speaking, can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life post stroke. The good news is, strong evidence indicates that greater amounts rehabilitation therapy can reduce long-term disability, according to a new UCLA-led study.  

“The best possible option for recovery from a stroke begins with a dedicated team of highly skilled licensed therapists that work integratively with the attending physician, registered nurses, dietician, and social worker,” explains Helen Dallaris, Director of Rehabilitation, United Hebrew in New Rochelle. “Since every individual presents a unique set of underlying causes, severity of the CVA, age, lifestyle, co-morbidities, etc., in order to bridge the gap between hospital and home, our interdisciplinary team creates a personalized rehabilitation treatment plan designed to get the patient back to their life as quickly as possible.”  

Identifying the Underlying Cause 

After a stroke, your doctor will typically run a comprehensive battery of tests to determine the cause and begin immediate drug therapy and possibly surgical intervention. In addition to treating the underlying causes of a CVA, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol or diabetes, your doctor’s treatment will include measures to prevent a subsequent stroke. Patients who have suffered a stroke are 25% more likely to sustain another within five years, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Consequently, lifestyle changes, such as diet, increased physical activity, and eliminating unhealthy habits, like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, are key to mitigating the risk of a subsequent stroke. 

Stroke Rehabilitation 

Rehabilitation typically begins in the hospital within 1 to 2 days after a stroke. As soon as you are stable, your doctor will usually recommend continued inpatient rehabilitation at a skilled nursing or short-term rehabilitation facility to ease the transition from hospital to home and help prevent another CVA.  

Insurance will pay for inpatient rehabilitation at an acute rehab hospital or a skilled nursing facility, as well as outpatient continued rehab and home care. 

What You can Expect from Stroke Rehab Therapy 

While the most common condition requiring post-stroke rehab is hemiplegia, or the loss of movement on one side of the body, Dallaris emphasizes that every stroke patient is different and patients often suffer a combination of disabilities requiring rehab to regain cognitive function, language skills, balance and even swallowing. That said, rehabilitation will include working with one or multiple therapists who specialize in specific deficiencies brought on by the CVA, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy. 

  • Speech therapy helps people who have problems producing or understanding speech or trouble swallowing. 
  • Physical therapy uses exercises to help individuals relearn movement and coordination skills they may have lost because of the stroke. 
  • Occupational therapy focuses on improving daily activities, such as eating, drinking, dressing, bathing, reading, and writing. 

In the case of United Hebrew, Dallaris says working as an interdisciplinary team, including assessments by the doctor, nurses, social worker, dietitians, and rehab therapy professionals, results in a comprehensive evaluation, which guides the treatment plan. 

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“Weekly meetings with our full care plan team, including therapists from our nationally renowned partner Burke Rehabilitation, facilitates the patient’s progress, assesses where they are in their recovery and what their expected length of stay will be,” explains Dallaris. “Within two weeks, we schedule a meeting with the family and the team to discuss our evaluation, prognosis, and the plan for going home, which is always priority one.  

“Our exceptional standard of care is something we take very seriously,” adds Dallaris. “With a 71.4% rate of success in returning our short-term rehab patients back to the community, United Hebrew’s results are significantly greater than the national average of 52.7%.” 

Going Home 

Individuals can make great progress in regaining their independence, according to Dallaris. However, some problems may persist: Ongoing paralysis in some parts of the body, limited strength, difficulty thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory. 

“Upon discharge, United Hebrew provides patients and caregivers with various programs and training, such as home exercise programs, dietary recommendations, mobility device training, as well as recommendations for either continued home care, physical therapy and rehab services at home or in an outpatient setting,” she explains.   

United Hebrew takes special care to involve the family in the patient’s transition to home and continuum of care and rehabilitation.  

Related Story: United Hebrew Discusses Post-Stroke Depression 

“In addition to physical and cognitive challenges, many stroke victims suffer from depression. The support from family and friends can really help relieve anxiety and regain hope for continued improvement and independence. Encouraging a loved one to join a support group can also offer tremendous benefit,” adds Dallaris.