The good news is that in many instances, a brain can heal itself after a stroke. The brain is a fighter.
A stroke is triggered when a blood vessel in the brain gets blocked or bursts. A common analogy is that it’s like a heart attack in the brain. Blood vessels are critical as they carry nutrients and oxygen to the brain. When a stroke causes a blood vessel to block or rupture, the neurons in the brain are deprived of blood. Without blood, these cells starve and die. This damage triggers different physical and mental changes in stroke victims.
Fortunately, damaged brain cells are not beyond repair. They can regenerate this process of creating new cells is called neurogenesis. The most rapid recovery usually occurs during the first three to four months after a stroke. However, recovery can continue well into the first and second year. A strong post stroke care plan can make a world of difference.
What are the Effects of a Stroke?
Strokes can affect everyone differently depending on the severity of the stroke, which side of the brain was damaged, and a person’s overall health before the stroke. The side of the body most affected is opposite the side of the brain that was initially damaged.
- A stroke on the left side of the brain is likely to cause speech problems and a slow, cautious behavioral style
- A stroke on the right side of the brain is more likely to cause vision problems and result in a quick, inquisitive behavioral style
- A stroke in the brain stem is the most severe, causing significant paralysis and speech issues
- Memory loss and motor skill paralysis are common symptoms regardless of where the stroke occurs in the brain
Common physical, mental, and emotional symptoms following a stroke include:
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble walking
- Trouble grasping objects
- Joint pain and rigidity
- Muscle stiffness or spasms
- Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
- Vision issues
- An altered sense of touch such as the ability to feel hot and cold
- Chronic pain syndromes resulting from damage to the nervous system
- Trouble coordinating body movements
- Difficulty swallowing and eating
- Problems with perception such as judging distances
- Speech and language problems as in processing and/or communicating information (also known as Aphasia)
- Cognitive challenges memory loss, trouble focusing and remembering
- Emotional distress fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration
- Depression afflicting 30-50% of stroke survivors and leading to lethargy, sleep disturbances, lowered self-esteem, and withdrawal
Stroke Recovery: Helping the Brain Heal Itself
There is hope for stroke recovery with elderly and previously ill individuals. This recovery involves proactive and comprehensive post stroke care and early rehabilitation efforts.
Rehabilitation helps stroke survivors relearn skills that have been lost or compromised. It teaches survivors new ways of performing tasks based on their disabilities, such as learning to bathe or dress using only one hand. Experts believe that repetition is important. While learning any new skill requires patience and practice, a repetitive rehabilitation program helps the brain heal.
Physical, recreational, and occupational therapy and other rehab programs are essential similarly, awareness, sensitivity, and patience in helping a stroke victim recover.