Stroke Recovery Tools: Your Guide to Getting Well After a Stroke

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Strokes occur when the brain is unable to receive adequate blood and oxygen supply, resulting in temporary or permanent death of brain cells. There are three main types of stroke that have slightly different causes and outcomes:

  • Ischemic stroke – This can happen when the vessels supplying blood to the brain become occluded, or blocked, by a clot.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – When a clot bursts, it can rupture the surrounding blood vessel and disrupt blood supply to the brain, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – This is a temporary clot that may cause brief symptoms but ultimately resolves without permanent damage. 

Symptoms of a stroke typically resolve fully, but the rehabilitation process may take weeks to years. Some individuals have persistent symptoms despite rehabilitation. These symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty forming typical speech
  • Trouble expressing or handling emotions
  • Memory and attention problems
  • Changes in sensation, such as feelings of pain and temperature
  • Depression

To learn more about strokes, visit this article. Recovering from a stroke may involve several forms of rehabilitation, including speech, physical and occupational therapy. 

What Are the Best Stroke Recovery Tools?

Following a stroke, individuals often have one-sided musculoskeletal weakness, meaning weakness or imbalance on just the left or right side of the body. In order to improve the recovery process, it can be helpful to engage in physical activities that use coordinating movements from both sides of the body so that the brain can “relearn” how to produce the movements that have been lost as a result of the stroke. 

Research strongly supports the use of exercises such as stationary bicycles to help restore motor function after a stroke. One study assessed the effect of daily stationary cycling for 30 minutes five times per week on stroke patients’ gait (ability to walk) and balance. The results of the study indicated that stationary cycling was an effective intervention in improving balance and walking ability in stroke rehabilitation patients. 

Other low-impact exercises with a minimal risk of falling are recommended for stroke rehabilitation as well. This may include walking at a slow speed on a treadmill (with supervision, if needed) or swimming. Any activity that incorporates both the legs and the hands is ideal as it may help improve the brain’s connection to all four limbs as well as motor activity of the muscles controlling the limbs. 

What Are Stroke Recovery Speech Exercises?

A stroke can have short and long-term impacts on an individual’s ability to process language and produce speech. These difficulties in communicating may take the form of one or more of the following:

  • Apraxia. This type of speech difficulty occurs due to a disruption in the connections between the brain and the muscles that help form parts of speech. After a stroke, an individual may experience difficulty controlling their tongue and lips, as well as problems putting together smaller parts of speech to form words and sentences. A speech-language pathologist can help improve the symptoms of apraxia by developing an individualized treatment plan, including verbal exercises that patients can practice at home or with family. 
  • Aphasia. There are two forms of aphasia: one which affects an individual’s ability to actually produce speech, and one which affects the ability to produce language that makes sense grammatically. A person may experience one or both forms of aphasia, depending on which parts of the brain were affected by their stroke. While there are not many interventions that can be performed by a speech-language pathologist, it is possible for some of the symptoms of aphasia to resolve over time as the brain heals. 
  • Dysarthria. Following a stroke, an individual may experience dysarthria, or the inability to control certain parts of speech including volume, pitch, rhythm and fluidity. The speech patterns produced by a person with dysarthria may sound jumbled, jerky, too loud, too soft or inappropriately spaced. In order to address this symptom of a stroke, a speech-language pathologist can assign exercises that help an individual practice slowing down their speech, using appropriate volume control, and intentionally enunciating words so as to avoid slurring. 

What About Medication for Stroke Recovery?

During a stroke, a physician may administer a “clot buster” or thrombolytic drug that is designed to break up an active blood clot. These medications must be given within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke symptoms in order to achieve their goal of reducing stroke severity. 

Individuals who have experienced one stroke are at an increased risk of having a future stroke, so they may be prescribed blood thinning medications to manage this. Two commonly used forms of blood thinners are antiplatelet medications and anticoagulant medications. 

Antiplatelet drugs help block platelets, or injury repair cells, from accumulating together and forming clots within blood vessels. Aspirin is the most frequently prescribed antiplatelet drug for stroke prevention. Talk to your physician before thinking about starting daily aspirin, as the dose must be customized to your particular risk level. In addition, antiplatelet medications can cause an increased risk of bleeding due to thinning the blood. It is important to inform any healthcare providers you see if you are currently taking aspirin, as this may affect certain interventions such as dental appointments. 

Anticoagulants intervene in the formation of new clots, as well as managing the size of any existing clots. Commonly, those who have had a prior stroke will be prescribed a long-term anticoagulant therapy called warfarin. If a person has pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, history of a brain injury, or alcohol use disorder, they may not be a good candidate to take an anticoagulant. Make sure you inform your physician of all your prior medical history so they can make the most appropriate treatment recommendation for your case. 

What Are the Best Foods for Stroke Recovery?

When a person experiences a stroke, their risk of having a future stroke increases. A person’s risk of having a stroke also increases if they have conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), diabetes or heart disease, or if they smoke tobacco products. 

While implementing healthy behaviors such as quitting smoking and controlling your blood sugar are extremely important, there are many diet improvements that can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of having a stroke. 

Experts suggest using the MyPlate method, which utilizes a template to help individuals learn how to “build” a meal plate. This method recommends that each meal includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and minimal dairy. The Mediterranean diet incorporates these elements, as well as healthy fats such as omega-3s. 

Aim to include dark, leafy-green vegetables, as well as a large variety of fruits (frozen fruits work too!). The most ideal proteins include low-fat and lean meats. Protein can also come from other sources besides meat, such as legumes (beans), nuts and seeds. 

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