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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Life After Stroke

Patients who survive and recover from stroke find a number of challenges present themselves. There are over 4 million Americans who have survived a stroke and are living with the effects of it. In addition to the patients, their families are also greatly affected by stroke.

The effects of stroke are widely varied, depending on the:

  • Severity of the stroke
  • Area affected
  • Speed of emergency medical response
  • Health of the patient


Recovery is as varied as the effects of stroke. In some cases, brain cells may be only temporarily damaged, and may resume function.

In others, the brain may reorganize itself, “taking over” a region that was damaged by stroke. Some patients can recover remarkably well, while others may require long-term care.

In general, the effects of stroke are divided as follows:

  • 15 percent of patients die shortly afterward
  • 10 percent of patients require long-term care
  • 40 percent of patients experience moderate-to-severe impairments that require special care
  • 25 percent of patients recover with only minor impairments
  • 10 percent of patients recover almost completely

Your Stroke Rehabilitation Team

A team of healthcare specialists will work with your doctor to help you reach all of your stroke recovery goals. Depending on the severity of your stroke, your rehabilitation team may include:

  • Case manager: provides links to social services, coordinates your care from multiple providers, helps facilitate follow-up to acute care
  • Dietitian: teaches you healthy eating habits and may assist with special diet-planning to help with stroke recovery
  • Neurologist: specialized in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of stroke and other diseases and disorders of the brain and spinal cord
  • Neuropsychologist: diagnoses and treats stroke survivors who may have experienced changes in behavior, memory, or ability to think after stroke
  • Physiatrist: expert in rehabilitation following injuries, accidents, or illness
  • Physical therapist: helps you recover motor skills and teaches you exercises to strengthen muscles for everyday movement
  • Occupational therapist: helps you relearn and manage everyday activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, writing, or cooking
  • Recreation therapist: helps you learn or relearn movement skills needed to participate in recreational activities
  • Rehabilitation nurse: specially trained in helping people with disabilities; helps you manage health problems that affect stroke and adjust to life after stroke
  • Social worker: helps you make decision about rehabilitation programs, insurance, living arrangements, and home-based support services
  • Speech language pathologist: helps you relearn language skills such as talking, reading and writing, as well as helps you manage any swallowing disorders


Rehabilitation for a stroke survivor begins as soon as possible in the hospital, once the patient’s condition is stabilized.

Some of the rehabilitation options may include:

  • A rehabilitation unit in the hospital
  • A subacute care unit
  • Home therapy (with or without outpatient therapy)
  • Long-term care with professional nursing

Much depends on the severity of the stroke. Rehabilitation is generally divided into three types:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Vision Therapy

Physical Therapy

This form of therapy is intended to restore your physical functioning. Impairments that it is particularly well-suited for include:

  • Partial or one-sided paralysis
  • Balance difficulties
  • Foot drop (condition where the forward part of the foot drops because of weakness or paralysis)

Occupational Therapy

This form of therapy concentrates on helping you relearn everyday life skills such as:

  • Eating
  • Toileting
  • Dressing
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Use of language

Speech pathologists can help stroke survivors deal with aphasia (inability to get the right words out or process incoming words). These experts can also help with memory loss and other related problems.

Vision Therapy

Vision problems are common with stroke survivors. A survivor may have partial or complete loss of sight, and may experience the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty performing visual activities
  • Eyestrain

If you have survived a stroke, you should get an eye examination as soon as possible afterward, so your doctor can determine if your eyes are healthy.

An optometrist or an ophthalmologist may be a vital part of your recovery and rehabilitation team, depending on the areas of your brain impacted by the stroke.

These specialists can diagnose specific problems and come up with an effective treatment plan for you.

What is Discharge Planning?

Discharge planning prepares you to live independently at home, after recovery from a stroke.

It is intended to help you maintain the benefits of rehabilitation. It may include:

  • Arranging for more rehabilitation services in your home
  • Choosing a healthcare provider who will take care of your health and medical needs
  • Determining which caregivers will provide daily care and supervision
  • Determining which community services may be helpful to you, and when
Last UpdateApril 30, 2012