Stroke Fact Sheet

A stroke is a blockage in blood flow to a part of the brain. A stroke is also called a "cerebrovascular accident" or a "brain attack". Symptoms of stroke can include weakness or paralysis, loss of feeling, disturbance of vision, blindness in one eye, problems with speaking, problems with swallowing, loss of balance, severe headache, or fainting. Because a stroke can lead to the loss of use of the part of the brain that is affected, it should be treated with the same urgency as a heart attack and the person experiencing the symptoms should obtain medical help immediately.

These are some of the changes that may occur following a stroke:

  • Emotional Changes
  • Physical Changes
  • Cognitive and Memory Problems
  • Communication and Swallowing Problems

Rehabilitation Following A Stroke

Most stroke survivors can benefit from some level of rehabilitation. The goal of rehabilitation following a stroke is to help the stroke survivor achieve the best possible recovery and maximize function. Patients relearn skills they had before the stroke, such as walking and speaking, and also learn new ways to do things that can no longer be done the old way.

The rehabilitation process often begins while the patient is still in the acute care hospital and, for most patients, continues after the patient goes home. Most stroke patients who have moderate to severe deficits will benefit from therapy services in an acute inpatient rehabilitation hospital or unit.

Rehabilitation in this setting is generally very intensive, requiring patients to participate in many different types of therapy for several hours each day. Other settings in which rehabilitation can be provided include nursing homes, outpatient therapy centers and the home.

Rehabilitation services can be provided by any of a number of professionals:

  • Physiatrists, physicians who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation, will often lead the team.
  • Rehabilitation nurses assist with nursing issues such as skin care, bowel and bladder care and education.
  • Physical therapists evaluate and treat problems such as moving, balance, and coordination. They provide training and exercises to improve mobility.
  • Occupational therapists assist stroke survivors in performing activities they could do before the stroke such as eating, bathing, dressing, writing or cooking. The old ways of performing tasks are not always possible, so the occupational therapist teaches patients new techniques.
  • Speech therapists help patients improve their communication skills following a stroke and can also assist with swallowing problems.
  • Social workers assist patients in developing a plan for returning home, can assist with insurance problems and in obtaining community resources.
  • Psychologists help patients deal with the mental and emotional problems that follow a stroke.
  • Recreation therapists can help people to return to the activities they enjoyed before the stroke, such as playing cards, gardening, sports, crafts, or community activities.

Rehabilitation offers stroke survivors a chance to regain function lost as a result of a stroke.

Here are some tips for lowering your risk for stroke:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it is in the high range, work with your doctor to lower it to a normal level. Take blood pressure medication as the doctor directs.
  • If you are diabetic, be sure your blood sugar is under control.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk for stroke.
  • Lower your cholesterol by reducing fats and high cholesterol foods.
  • Exercise regularly; but check with your doctor first.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation.
  • Avoid street drugs.

Advice For Caregivers Of Stroke Survivors

Stroke can be a devastating illness that affects not only the patient but also a patient's family and friends. Caregivers often go through stages in learning to cope with the fact that their loved one has suffered a stroke and to deal with the responsibilities of caregiving. These stages usually begin with feelings of alarm, such as fear, anger and resentment. Caregivers then move into feelings of denial, exhaustion, acceptance, and finally mobilization.

When caregivers do become ready to mobilize, they will find that resources are available to assist them. Stroke Support Groups are available and bring stroke survivors and caregivers together. Through support groups individuals can receive information, counseling and support. To obtain a list of stroke support groups in your area visit the American Heart Association website listed under the 'Related Information' tab below or call their toll free number at 1-800-242-8721.

Your county's Area Agency on Aging may be able to help you obtain services such as home health aides, Meals on Wheels, transportation services, limited home modifications, and counseling for caregivers.

To learn more, click Related Information below.

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