How to speed up recovery after a stroke
Having a stroke is a frightening experience – not just for the victim of the stroke but also for their friends and family. Here are a few guidelines to smooth the difficult process of stroke recovery.
There are two types of strokes (most commonly a clot or Ischemic stroke and less frequently a Haemorrhagic stroke which occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures usually from prolonged high blood pressure*). While their symptoms might be similar, they are very different and recovery requires different time frames and exercises. Having said that, there are a few safe practices which, when combined with a rigorous medical consultation process, could speed up the process of recovery.
- Re-forming neural pathways
Stroke damages parts of the brain but the brain is a remarkably regenerative organ. Old pathways that may have been damaged can be repaired, or new ones forged.
Unfortunately, says Dr Alex Landmann a neurologist at Mediclinic Sandton, there is no pharmacological agent or medical technique that has been proven conclusively to regrow the damaged tissue. In the meantime, multidisciplinary rehabilitation is the way to redress functional deficits.’
Advice for patients: As with all new tasks, the first steps are the most difficult. The learning curve may be steep but that means that it is also fast. Set reasonable goals.
Advice for supporters: Patience is key. The patient may require several repetitions of the same event. Keep at it. It’s a matter of practice and repetition.
- Support network
Whether it is medical staff, paid professionals, family or friends, the recovery process requires a joint network of support of people. The former will outline the necessary steps and formal guidelines of the recovery, and the latter is there to give daily support and help to implement the guidelines.
Advice for patients: In the case of memory loss (a common effect), chatting with a friend could help your recall. Ask questions about specific instances that you have difficulty remembering, and ask your family to show you photographs.
Advice for supporters: ‘Recovery won’t happen overnight,’ says Dr Landmann. ‘You need to be aware of how a loss of function affects that person and how to compensate for it. For example, changing the environment for a person in a wheelchair to move as independently as possible. A lot of patience is required from the family.’
- Change of lifestyle
A stroke is a frightening wake-up call. The good news is there’s no greater motivation for changing unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle.
Advice for patients: Often our unhealthy habits have very specific triggers (like smoking with coffee, or beer while watching sport). If you can spot the triggers, you can manage the bad habits. Also, avoid situations where you will be exposed to second-hand smoke or stress.
Advice for supporters: Offer alternatives to what were destructive habits in the patient’s life. Encourage the patient by remarking on their improvement or suggest slight developments that could help them.
- Follow-up visits
Dr Landmann stresses the need to monitor the vascular risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and to stop smoking. ‘That’s what we call secondary stroke prevention,’ he says. ‘We modify the risk factors as far as possible and if a patient is compliant there will be a much lower risk of a further stroke.’
Advice for patients: Book your appointments with your specialist well in advance, and come up with a schedule in consultation with them.
Advice for supporters: Make it a fun trip out. Combine the appointment with an enjoyable activity before or afterwards, so it becomes something to look forward to.
- Eating more healthily
The human brain uses more energy than any other organ of the body (sometimes using 20% of the energy available). Make sure it’s sufficiently fuelled, especially when it is fighting hard to recover from the trauma of a stroke.
Advice for patients: Your doctor will encourage you to cut down on fatty foods and salt, which are directly linked to high blood pressure.
Advice for supporters: If there is difficulty with swallowing food after a stroke a dietician or speech therapist can advise on changing the texture of food so that it can be consumed safely.
Stroke warning signs.
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body.
- Sudden unusual, severe and persistent headache.
- Sudden difficulty speaking or loss of sight in one or both eyes
DO THE F.A.S.T. TEST
Smile, or show your teeth. Does one side of the face droop?
Close your eyes, and hold your arms out for 10 seconds. Does one arm drift down?
Repeat any sentence. Is speech slurred, wrong words used or unable to speak?
Note the time and get to the nearest stroke unit as soon as possible. Every minute counts.
For emergency services, call 084 124.