What You Can do to Help the Recovery of a Stroke Patient
Strokes are the third most common killer in the Western world, ranking right behind heart disease and cancer. Throughout most of human history, a stroke, known in the past as "palsy" or "apoplexy" would usually leave you paralysed and crippled, with only hope, prayer and constant nursing to look forward to. Thanks to modern understanding of how the brain works, combined with emerging technologies, stroke victims in the 21st century have far better prospects of recovery than ever before.
Early RecognitionBrain tissue gets damaged in a stroke when blood clots or bleeding vessels disrupt the supply of blood and oxygen to part of the brain. The brain area around the injury zone is believed to be salvageable and even capable of self repair to some extent. The quicker that a stroke is recognized, and the patient receives medical attention, the greater the chances that treatments like clot busting drugs can be used to limit the extent of the damage.
What Are the Symptoms?The commonest early symptoms of stroke are weakness or numbness of the face, an arm and/or a leg, usually on the same side of the body. The weakness may be mild, or the patient may be completely unable to feel or move the affected limb. The patient's face may appear lopsided or asymmetrical, their speech may start to sound garbled and slurred, they may appear confused or unable to understand speech. Swallowing may be hard, they may develop visual difficulties or dizziness, with nausea and vomiting and co-ordination or walking difficulties . There may be a sudden, very severe headache. There may be any combination of these complaints, and onset is usually pretty sudden and dramatic.
What Should You Do?If you think someone may be having a stroke, it's important to remember that this is a medical emergency, just like a heart attack, and you should call for medical help immediately. Knowing the signs of stroke, and calling for medical help quickly are the first, and maybe the most important steps you can take to help the recovery of someone having a stroke.
Stroke Rehab TeamsIn the past, it was thought best to wait, sometimes for weeks, after a stroke before starting rehabilitation. Nowadays, it is believed that the earlier you start rehab, the better the chances are of recovery form a stroke. Rehab teams may include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, speech therapists and psychologists. Often these professionals will work with family members and teach them rehabilitation techniques that they can use to help the brain and body recovery process.
What Can Family Members Do?The most important thing is emotional and physical support, and involvement with what the stroke patient is going through. Various professionals can instruct family members in the specific types of therapy that the individual stroke patient needs. For example, if there is leg weakness or paralysis, the stroke patient may need lots of help with exercises designed to relearn how to walk. If speech is affected, speech therapists can teach family members techniques that can help in relearning language skills. Some of the brain area around the damaged zone can repair itself to some extent, and other brain areas may learn how to perform the functions that the damaged zone was responsible for. The different modalities of treatment all encourage these brain relearning processes.
Stimulating All the SensesStimulation seems to be the key to neurofacilitation. Scientists agree that the more the brain is challenged, the better the recovery of neuronal function. Research has shown that stroke patients who listened to music every day in the early stages after a stroke recovered better than those who listened to audio books or do nothing. It's been suggested that the music directly stimulated the recovery of damaged neurons, or alternatively that it kick-started general repair and renewal mechanisms.
In another study, walking at fast paces was shown to improve stroke recovery. The researchers cheered the stroke patients on, as if they were encouraging them to catch a bus! However much you want to help a stroke recovery patient, it's not encouraged to try that technique at home, as fast walking may be dangerous if there isn't appropriate supervision and equipment. The take home message is that stimulation of all the senses is the best way to push the damaged brain down the path to recovery from stroke.