What is stroke rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is often necessary to assist the brain to relearn skills that have been affected by a stroke. It involves activities and therapy to help your brain adapt to the injury caused by the stroke.
Over time, you can create new brain pathways so you use different parts of the brain to do the things you used to do before the stroke.
How does a stroke affect the body?
Strokes can cause weakness or paralysis in one side of the body. Many people also have problems with co-ordination and balance, and suffer from extreme tiredness (fatigue) in the first few weeks after a stroke. They may also have difficulty sleeping, making them even more tired.
The specific abilities that are lost or affected by a stroke depend on the extent of the brain damage and, most importantly, where in the brain the stroke occurred.
The most common problems in daily life are likely to be caused by:
- weakness or lack of movement (paralysis) in legs or arms
- tight muscles
- shoulder pain, nerve pain or headaches
- trouble swallowing
- changes to the way things are seen or felt (perceptual problems)
- changes to the way things are felt when touched (sensory problems)
- trouble thinking or remembering (cognitive problems)
- difficulty speaking, reading or writing
- feeling depressed or anxious
- problems controlling emotions
Assessment for rehabilitation
A specialist rehabilitation team will assess a person’s suitability for ongoing rehabilitation after a stroke. The amount and type of rehabilitation offered will depend on the individual's needs and how much they can manage. Family, carers and the person affected by stroke should be involved in any choices available.
Rehabilitation can start in hospital very soon after a stroke. It may continue at a rehabilitation facility or sometimes in an outpatient unit.
If you have had a stroke, a physiotherapist should see you as part of your rehabilitation to assess the extent of any physical disability before drawing up a treatment plan.
At first, your physiotherapist will work with you by setting goals to improve your posture and balance. As your condition improves, more demanding long-term goals, such as standing or walking, will be set.
A carer, such as a member of your family, will be encouraged to become involved in your physiotherapy. The physiotherapist can teach both of you some simple exercises you can do at home.
Sometimes, physiotherapy can last months or even years.
After a stroke, you may have problems with communication, including difficulty speaking and understanding others. A speech pathologist will develop a plan with you to address these challenges where possible.
You may benefit from:
- practising talking, listening and writing
- practising using gestures or aides to assist with communication
- exercising the muscles needed for speech to improve their strength and coordination
Recovery after a stroke depends upon many factors including the severity of the stroke and the time it takes to receive medical care. The most rapid recovery occurs in the first 3 months after a stroke. Further recovery is possible, but gains are usually slower and may take years.
Training for carers
A rehabilitation team can help carers and the people they care for learn the skills needed to manage daily life after the cared-for person has had a stroke.
Carers can provide physical, emotional and practical help. They benefit from training that allows them to help communication between the person they care for and other care providers, support groups, and Centrelink.
Training can also assist them in:
- talking to health professionals about assessments and test results
- helping to set goals and being involved in treatment decisions
- joining in therapy sessions
- encouraging exercise and activities suggested by therapists
- helping to celebrate progress
- using a communication book to help a cared-for person remember things (e.g. who they have visited, which therapists they have seen, what they said).
Resources and support
Call StrokeLine to talk to a health professional and get free information and advice: 1800 787 653 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST.
Visit the Stroke Foundation’s rehabilitation website, enableme.
Read more about stroke rehabilitation on the Stroke Foundation website.
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Last reviewed: June 2021