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The Road to Stroke Recovery Has No Stop Sign

Exciting advancements in stroke care are shattering conventional wisdom about what people can accomplish months and even years after a stroke.

Doctors used to tell stroke survivors just to accept their functional limits after three to six months, because their recovery was complete. But today, scientific research is leading to new stroke treatment strategies, and companies are developing innovative devices to help stroke survivors. The field is exploding, and just because a patient’s acute phase of recovery is over is no reason to let up.

The reason for this paradigm shift relates to a new understanding of “plasticity,” the brain’s natural ability to reshape itself to work around dead and damaged areas. Therapy can help this process along, training undamaged parts of the brain to compensate, at least to some extent, for the lost function in another part of the brain. As a result, stroke recovery can continue indefinitely.

Taking A Long-Term, Multidisciplinary Approach

Immediately after experiencing a stroke, most patients spend up to a week or longer at an acute care hospital. After their condition stabilizes, they participate in inpatient rehabilitation. As critical as this is for the stroke survivor’s long-term recovery, what happens after discharge is just as vital. Unfortunately, follow-up outpatient care tends to vary widely for stroke survivors, and these individuals can miss opportunities to maximize their recovery.

Patients do best when they continue to receive multidisciplinary recovery care after discharge. Unfortunately, many people only receive this team care in the hospital right after their stroke. This can involve participating in many aspects of the recovery process, such as:

It’s important for stroke survivors to find a physician who will invest time and energy into their recovery process, no matter how long ago the stroke occurred. Ideally, that physician will work closely with other stroke specialists to help the patient maximize his or her recovery and live as full a life as possible.

Continuing to Progress Four Years Later

Johan deRoos knows first hand that the road to stroke recovery has no stop sign. He has come a long way since his 2006 stroke, which affected his right side and the communication center of his brain. It resulted in expressive aphasia, an impairment that makes it difficult for him to speak fluently.

Johan’s wife, Susan, has been his coach and advocate through every aspect of care— the month of inpatient therapy, the many months of outpatient therapy, and the five research projects in which Johan has participated.

Johan says he jumped at the opportunity to participate in clinical research. It’s a chance to help others, he explains — and potentially speed his recovery. After one study, for instance, Susan says his gait function improved by about 30%. “Some people still think that stroke survivors can’t improve after a certain point,” she says. “But here we are four years later, and we are still seeing gains in Johan’s strength, balance and speech. He is proof positive that there’s always hope.”

Johan continues his outpatient therapy, participates in research projects and attends stroke survivors support group meetings. His latest endeavor is to take tennis lessons from a local pro, and he and Susan have returned to one of their favorite pastimes: traveling. In fact, they just returned from six weeks in Aruba — more proof that Johan and Susan are continuing to live their lives to the fullest.

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