The experience of a family member or loved one having a stroke can be a very scary event. Not only during the stroke but also after as you start to discover from the doctor how much brain damage has occurred. The after-effects of a stroke can be loss of speech, balance, vision and paralysis, usually from loss of oxygen to the brain due to a blood clot and loss of blood flow.
You may begin asking yourself, “can the brain heal after stroke?” and “what is the fastest way to recover from a brain stroke?” Well, fortunately, there is hope when it comes to brain recovery after it has experienced trauma like a stroke. This article will cover how your loved one or family member can work towards regaining abilities that they may have lost and start to begin living a more fulfilling life again.
Can the Brain Heal Itself After a Trauma?
Source: The Week
The short answer is yes; the brain can heal after acute trauma from a stroke or brain injury, although the degree of recovery will vary. The reason the brain can recover at all is through neuroplasticity, sometimes referred to as brain plasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to grow and reorganize the neural networks that store and retrieve information.
When a stroke happens, the brain loses oxygen, and a brain without oxygen, even for a few minutes, can cause damage to the brain cells and neural pathways. These pathways are integral for the brain to send messages to the rest of the body about how to function. An example of this can be damage to the neural connections in the brain that control speech.
However, through this growth and reorganization of neural pathways, the brain can thankfully repair itself and regain lost brain capabilities. While the body is amazing at self-healing, the brain does need some help from the stroke survivor and caregiver through rehabilitation efforts to help the process along.
What Is the Fastest Way To Recover From a Brain Stroke?
To speed up the recovery process after a stroke and work towards healing the brain, one must regularly exercise the brain through repetitive actions, either physical or cognitive. By repeatedly completing specific activities over and over again, the brain begins to activate the neuroplasticity that develops new neural pathways. These actions are called massed practice, an integral part of stroke therapy; however, not exclusive to only stroke recovery.
Massed practice is also used when learning any new skill, such as learning to ride a bike, in sports, or learning a new language. The general idea is to keep practicing the same action daily or even several times a day until your brain starts to regain that function again. Your loved one’s doctor or occupational therapist will recommend certain exercises to help with stroke rehabilitation.
Another great addition to a stroke recovery plan is getting the proper nutrients from supplements and, of course, a healthy diet. Getting the right vitamins from both food and supplements can help promote neurological and physical recovery. Always check with the doctor when adding any supplements to a stroke recovery plan to avoid any adverse effects to current medications.
These are some common stroke recovery exercises that your loved one’s health practitioner may suggest—followed by a list of the common brain supporting supplements and nutrients.
Brain Exercises for Stroke Recovery
Source: Companions for Seniors
Keeping the brain engaged and in use while recovering from a stroke is essential for restoring cognitive function in areas of the brain. These exercises can be anything from games to cooking where memory, problem-solving, motor function, and concentration are activated. Not only that, but it can also promote connection with friends and family, relaxing the nervous system, and can bring joy. Some effective brain exercises are:
- Listening to music
- Board games
Best Brain Supplements for Stroke Recovery
While there isn’t much evidence that shows supplements prevent strokes, they can enhance recovery, brain repair, and reduce risk. Here are some suggested vitamins to incorporate:
- Vitamin C: Helps to repair damaged blood vessels, reduce build-up in arteries, and regain memory.
- Vitamin E: May help with regaining memory loss.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Reduces cholesterol levels, blood clots, high blood pressure.
- Vitamin B-6 & -12: Can help to reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Too much homocysteine is linked with higher chances of stroke.
What Are the Chances of Recovery From Stroke Paralysis?
Stoke paralysis is another significant impact of a stroke that can look and feel alarming for survivors and their families. You may be wondering what the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis are. Fortunately, stroke survivors can do many things to improve the chances of recovery when some form of paralysis occurs.
Stroke recovery is unique to each individual, so while some survivors regain all or most movement, some may not. Your loved one’s doctor can help set expectations around what recovery will look like and estimate the timeline.
The Christopher & Dana Reeve’s Foundation offers a realistic percentage of recovery based on previous scientific research.
- 10 percent of stroke survivors recover almost completely
- 25 percent recover with minor impairments
- 40 percent experience moderate to severe impairments requiring special care
- 10 percent need care in a nursing home or other long-term care
- 15 percent die shortly after the stroke
The chances of recovery are highly determined by the size and location of the stroke, how soon the individual received help and the intensity and consistency of rehabilitation. If your loved one is conscious immediately after the stroke or soon after, the rehabilitation can begin within a couple of days.
The survivor’s doctor and social worker will usually create a comprehensive stroke therapy plan that involves a high degree of care after being discharged from the hospital. For the first while, sometimes a family member or friend becomes the primary caregiver, at the very least for advocacy; however, at times, outside help is necessary, such as in-home nursing care for long-term disability.
How Long Can a Person Be Unresponsive After a Stroke?
In some cases, a person can be unresponsive after a stroke for a period of time. This can be anywhere from days to months and, in extreme cases, several years. A coma happens most commonly if excessive intracranial pressure occurs or a massive stroke or brain stem stroke. However, since each person’s stroke is different, it is hard to determine the exact length of time one might be in a coma.
While this is a very distressing time, not all hope is lost. Even long-term stroke-induced comas have seen positive results in recovery based on the incredible neuroplasticity of the brain.
Stroke Recovery Stages
Source: Visiting Angels
If you are a family member or loved one of a person who has had a stroke, it is helpful to understand the various stages of stroke recovery. Understanding the stages is especially important if you are becoming the primary caregiver.
Once again, keep in mind that every stroke survivor’s experience is different so take the following as a general guideline. Your loved one’s doctor will be able to give the best estimation of recovery based on their unique situation.
Acute Care Stage
The acute care stage begins once the paramedics are called. If you are around someone and start noticing any of the following stroke symptoms, you should immediately call 911:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness on one side of the body
- Slurred speech
- Sudden numbness
- Sudden confusion
- Severe headache
- Trouble walking or loss of balance
- Difficulty seeing
It is vital that the person experiencing a stroke get to the hospital within 3 hours or sooner to receive the appropriate and immediate care they need. This will help reduce the amount of brain damage or further injury.
A stroke patient can remain in the hospital anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on the severity. Close to the end of the hospital stay, the neurologists and staff will determine the next steps for inpatient care or a nursing facility.
Once a person is discharged from the hospital following a stroke, they may not be ready to go home yet. If this is the case, it may be best to utilize an inpatient rehabilitation centre or nursing facility. The benefits of inpatient rehabilitation are specialized and round-the-clock care. Your loved one could still be in quite a critical condition where they cannot speak, walk or care for themselves. Depending on how severe, it may not be appropriate or safe to be at home without a trained medical professional.
At an inpatient rehabilitation centre, the stroke survivor will receive intensive and consistent daily therapy from a team of professionals; this could be physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or speech therapy to relearn lost skills. There is usually less therapy at a skilled nursing facility (SNF), but your loved one will still receive consistent daily care.
Whether at a rehabilitation centre or nursing facility, inpatient care can range from weeks to months. Remember, the first three months of stroke rehabilitation are the most crucial.
At admission, a practitioner will set rehabilitation goals to determine how much a person has recovered after a stroke and if they are recovered enough to return home. At the end of inpatient care, a doctor or nurse will create a discharge plan to ensure the stroke survivor will receive adequate care into the next stage.
Rehabilitation still needs to continue well into returning home with many people still being involved, such as speech therapists, physical therapists or nurses. Often, a family member or loved one will take on being the main caregiver while utilizing at-home health care workers and therapists to assist in the at-home recovery process.
Depending on the recovery rate, the at-home health care worker will determine if the stroke survivor is ready to be released from continued therapy or if outpatient rehabilitation is required.
If further rehabilitation is required, then the outpatient rehabilitation program is the next stage of recovery. At this step, the caregiver will most likely be taking on more responsibility. As such, it is important to become familiar with what sort of care you’ll need to provide your loved one, which can look like:
- Personal hygiene and care if your loved one cannot care for themselves
- Ensuring medication is taken and on time
- Encouraging brain and rehabilitation exercises
- Driving your loved one to outpatient services and other recovery activities
- Advocating for the stroke survivor if they are unable to for themselves
This stage can last months to years, and as the caregiver, you must ensure you are also taking care of yourself so as not to burn out. Here are some helpful tips for caregivers about how to care for your loved one after a stroke.
During this stage, the most important thing is to stay consistent with exercises and rehabilitation; sometimes, stroke survivors and their caregivers can become complacent, which will only hinder the continued recovery and cause a plateau.
At some point, your at-home health care worker, therapist or out-patient care practitioner may decide that your loved one is well enough to continue recovery on their own or with just their family caregiver. When this happens, it doesn’t mean that recovery is entirely over but just that they are well enough to take matters into your or their own hands.
Research shows that recovery can still occur even years after a stroke. So it is encouraged that stroke survivors continue with some form of community involvement or therapy services to ensure they remain active and healthy.
Always remember that the risk of stroke is higher if someone has previously had a stroke. As such, a healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, regular check-ups and the elimination of smoking and alcohol are important for maintaining a successful stroke recovery.
Stroke rehabilitation is not an easy or quick process. Still, with consistency, determination and a sound support system, you and your loved one together can considerably speed up the healing process.
We at Guardian Homecare specialize in at-home care needs for stroke survivors, seniors and their caregivers while in need of extra help. We service Toronto, North York, and Scarborough. Give us a call today at 416-613-8570 for your in-home care consultation.