Q: My father just had a stroke. What will his recovery look like?

A: There are two main types of strokes:

  • Ischemic strokes are caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain — 87% of strokes are ischemic.
  • Hemorrhagic strokes are caused when an artery bleeds into the brain.

Each type of stroke comes with different sets of side effects and recovery hurdles. Hemorrhagic strokes are more deadly within the first two days of the stroke but post-stroke recovery has a higher rate of success. Recovery success after an ischemic stroke can depend on the severity of the stroke and the timing of treatment. Quick emergency intervention increases the likelihood of a successful recovery.

When someone suffers from a stroke, rehabilitation programs likely are the next step. Seeing a physical or occupational therapist shortly after a stroke makes a positive difference in the recovery process. Stroke rehabilitation programs treat aphasia (the inability to understand speech), hemineglect (the inability to recognize objects in one side of space), fine motor skills, cognitive skills, and coordination.

Each survivor’s rehabilitation plan will vary based on the person’s needs. A multi-disciplinary team of experts will identify the proper therapies and guide patients through the recovery process. Occupational therapists aid in redeveloping a patient’s sensory and motor skills. Physical therapists work to stabilize and mobilize a patient’s limbs. Speech therapists work to overcome a patient’s aphasia and apraxia (when someone hears and understands, but is unable to respond). Endocrinologists and cardiologists work to control sugar levels, blood pressure, and other potential risk factors to reduce the risk of future strokes.

Stroke rehabilitation comes with many obstacles and is not an easy journey. The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help patients become independent and return home at or close to 100% of their previous function. After a patient has been discharged, home health care organizations can provide access to nurses and physical therapists at home. Family and friends also can help incorporate physical therapy exercises into a patient’s home life.

Family support during the recovery process provides patients with assistance and encouragement outside of therapy sessions. Family members also can attend therapy sessions to better understand a stroke victim’s day-to-day struggles. Family members can monitor their loved one’s general health, help with in-home therapy, and assist with issues resulting from their loved one’s diminished motor and cognitive skills.

After suffering a stroke, survivors should make lifestyle changes to prevent future health complications. These behavioral changes include exercising, staying mobile, eating mindfully, limiting alcohol consumption, and stopping smoking.

If you or a loved one needs more information about stroke recovery, talk to an acute rehabilitation specialist.

Edward C. Burnetta is the medical director of acute rehabilitation at Nazareth Hospital.