Coming back strong after a stroke

We have the good fortune of meeting more stroke survivors nowadays because new treatments have boosted survival and enabled opportunities for recovery. Increased awareness about the signs of stroke has also helped more patients, saving precious time and brain function.

Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Although deaths from stroke are decreasing, it increasingly affects younger people and it remains a leading cause of disability.

A stroke can be a frightening and life-changing experience.  Coming back from a stroke is not easy. It requires skilled doctors, timely treatment and tenacity from both clinicians and patients. Before recovery and rehabilitation can occur, doctors must ensure the person’s life is no longer in danger, so that a second stroke is averted.

The National Stroke Association estimates that 35 percent of stroke patients recover fully or with only minor complications. Others need additional help and time getting back to their normal routine.

Here are some ways to help you, or a loved one, recover from a stroke:

Avoid a second stroke. Take any prescription medication for blood pressure or diabetes. Eat healthy and keep moving as much as you can. Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping a regular exercise routine will help lower your chances for another stroke. Even if you have limitations, don’t become sedentary.

Give yourself time. Some people have trouble swallowing after a stroke. Speech and occupational therapists can help you relearn to eat normally again, as well as perform daily tasks like brushing your teeth and tying your shoes. Aphasia, or the inability to speak, affects many stroke patients. In many cases, this is a temporary challenge and patients can gradually communicate verbally again with the help of a speech therapist.

Make your home safe. After a stroke, you might be more prone to falls that can cause injury. Have someone help clear clutter, secure rugs and bring daily items within reach. If you’re using a wheelchair, have someone move furniture out of the way.

Dress easy. Small movements like fastening buttons might be challenging for some. Try shirts with snaps, instead of buttons. Buy shoes that close with Velcro, instead of laces. Pants with elastic waistband, instead of a zipper or buttons, can make your life easier.

Recognize signs of depression. About one-third and one-half of stroke patients suffer depression after a stroke. Watch for changes in attitude and trouble controlling emotions. Some survivors report not feeling well enough to focus on their rehabilitation, so don’t let depression sidetrack you — talk to your doctors.

Find a support group and a stroke recovery program. A support group will help you realize you are not alone in your journey. A stroke recovery program can give you structure and bring you closer to specialists and therapists who can help you accelerate your recovery.

Don’t be afraid to change the plan. Some people see the most change during the first three months of rehabilitation. You might benefit from different therapies as you make progress. Let your therapists and doctors know how you feel, and try something new.

Every stroke survivor’s story is unique. Recovery can sometimes start during the initial hospital stay, depending on the patient’s condition. An early start to rehabilitation can help restore lost brain and body functions. Talk to your doctors and get the help you need to come back strong.


Casey Carrigan, MD, is a neurologist with Baptist Health who provides hospital-based neurology services at Baptist Beaches. He completed his residency at Mayo Clinic Florida, attended medical school at Florida State University College of Medicine and is board certified in psychiatry and neurology. Bring your questions to Dr. Carrigan at a free Talk With  A Doc at the Y Healthy Living Center on May 24, 2017

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