Life After a Stroke: What to Expect

What hap­pens after a stroke – and which providers can help?

You have sur­vived a stroke. You spent a few days in the hos­pi­tal where you start­ed rehab. And now, you’re back home – and you’re not quite sure what to expect. 

A stroke is a life-chang­ing event. It occurs when there is sud­den bleed­ing in your brain or there’s a block­age of blood flow to your brain. It is a med­ical emer­gency that can lead to long-term dis­abil­i­ty or per­ma­nent brain dam­age and can even be life-threat­en­ing, so it’s nat­ur­al to be con­fused and over­whelmed after sur­viv­ing a stroke when you think about what’s ahead. 

There are many dif­fer­ent ways in which a stroke may affect you, and no two strokes are exact­ly alike. How­ev­er, there are some effects that are com­mon. Here are some ways in which a stroke may affect you and which types of providers can help you work through the chal­lenges and changes.

The Extent of Dam­age and Loca­tion of the Stroke Make a Difference

The effects of a stroke depend on how much brain tis­sue is dam­aged and where in the brain the stroke occurs.

For exam­ple, a stroke in the brain­stem (the base of the brain that con­trols func­tions like heart­beat and blood pres­sure) can result in heart func­tion or breath­ing prob­lems. A stroke at the back of the brain, where the occip­i­tal lobe (the lobe that con­trols vision) is housed, may cause prob­lems with your sight.

A Stroke Can Have Sig­nif­i­cant Phys­i­cal Effects

Two of the main phys­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions of a stroke are weak­ness or paral­y­sis on one side of the body and spasticity:

  • Paral­y­sis (inabil­i­ty to move) and weak­ness occur on the side of your body oppo­site the side of the brain where the stroke occurred.
  • Spas­tic­i­ty is when a mus­cle invol­un­tar­i­ly con­tracts (flex­es or short­ens) when you move, caus­ing the mus­cle to become stiff or and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to stretch.

In addi­tion, a stroke can lead to phys­i­cal effects such as fatigue, pain, and seizures.

If you expe­ri­ence these effects after a stroke, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist can become your best friend. Your phys­i­cal ther­a­pist can lead you in exer­cis­es to relearn move­ment and coor­di­na­tion skills and get you back on your feet. If the stroke has caused changes to your abil­i­ty to move, your ther­a­pist can also help you learn how to best use mobil­i­ty devices like canes and walk­ers or fit you with an ankle brace to help sta­bi­lize and strength­en your ankle.

If you need phys­i­cal ther­a­py after a stroke, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a South Bend Clin­ic phys­i­cal therapist.

Strokes Can Dis­rupt Activ­i­ties of Dai­ly Living

Your body relies on fine motor skills – the tiny, pre­cise move­ments you make with your hands, fin­gers, feet, and toes – to do every­day tasks, from eat­ing to read­ing a book to get­ting dressed. There are sev­er­al fac­tors that affect your abil­i­ty to use fine motor skills, like aware­ness and plan­ning, mus­cle strength, and coordination.

A stroke can cause prob­lems with these fac­tors, impair­ing your fine motor skills and mak­ing it chal­leng­ing to do activ­i­ties that you’re used to doing with­out giv­ing them a sec­ond thought.

Work­ing with an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist is key for regain­ing fine motor skills or learn­ing to adapt if there is per­ma­nent dam­age. They can help you become more inde­pen­dent after a stroke by help­ing you relearn activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing (ADLs).

Basic ADLs are skills you need to man­age your essen­tial phys­i­cal needs, such as:

  • Per­son­al hygiene, like bathing and brush­ing your teeth
  • Get­ting dressed
  • Feed­ing yourself
  • Walk­ing independently
  • Con­trol­ling blad­der and bow­el function
  • Using the bathroom

Your occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist can also help with instru­men­tal ADLs, which involve more com­plex think­ing and orga­ni­za­tion­al skills. These are the skills you use to live inde­pen­dent­ly in your com­mu­ni­ty, such as man­ag­ing finances, cook­ing, clean­ing, dri­ving, shop­ping, and working. 

Strokes Can Also Change How You Think or Com­mu­ni­cate With Others

Cog­ni­tive impair­ment (dif­fi­cul­ty think­ing, learn­ing, mak­ing deci­sions, remem­ber­ing, or using your judg­ment) and prob­lems with com­mu­ni­ca­tion are both com­mon after a stroke.

These chal­lenges can be frus­trat­ing, but it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that these prob­lems affect cer­tain skills, but they do not cause you to lose any intel­li­gence. Your intel­li­gence has not changed since the stroke.

Speech-lan­guage spe­cial­ists and occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists can help you man­age these prob­lems and regain the skills you’ve lost. 

Your Vision Might Move Fur­ther From 20/20

If a stroke has affect­ed your vision, you’re in good com­pa­ny. Vision prob­lems affect about 65% of stroke sur­vivors. A stroke doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly cause com­plete blind­ness. For instance, it can cause a loss in a por­tion of the visu­al field (the area you see in front of you).

The good news is that, while you might not be able to entire­ly regain your vision, there are sev­er­al treat­ments to help you com­pen­sate for vision loss. An eye doc­tor, like an optometrist or oph­thal­mol­o­gist, or a neu­rol­o­gist can work with you on ther­a­pies like scan­ning (train­ing your eyes to scan away from areas of vision loss) or adding prisms to your eyeglasses. 

Your Feel­ings and Per­son­al­i­ty Might Be Dif­fer­ent From What You’re Used To

From depres­sion to anx­i­ety to sud­den mood swings to becom­ing eas­i­ly annoyed, strokes are known to affect emo­tions and per­son­al­i­ty. There are a few rea­sons why this can happen.

It may be because the stroke affect­ed the parts of your brain that con­trol mood, per­son­al­i­ty, and your abil­i­ty to inter­act with oth­ers. It may be due to the stress and the emo­tion­al toll of a stroke and its after­math. Or it could be a com­bi­na­tion of both.

Regard­less of what is caus­ing changes in how you feel or behave, a behav­ioral health spe­cial­ist like a ther­a­pist or psy­chol­o­gist can help you keep your men­tal health intact after a stroke.

Every­one has a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence after a stroke, and some peo­ple have life­long effects while oth­ers ful­ly recov­er. There’s no nor­mal” out­come. But there is one thing that is for sure; with the right team of providers who focus on your indi­vid­ual needs, you won’t need to go through recov­ery alone. 

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  • I enjoy helping patients maintain their health. I also enjoy working them to maximize their physical and mental health.

  • I believe that our bodies are designed to thrive in the correct environment. If we eat well, exercise, develop healthy relationships with our family and community, and have meaningful work, we will have the best opportunity to be healthy. As much as possible, I encourage my patients to pursue non-medical treatments for their problems.