One of my questions when Steve had a stroke was, “How long will it take for him to recover?” The answer was always, “I don’t know.” I thought the doctors, nurses and therapists were trying to hide something from me because they were being so evasive.
It really bothered me that no one could give me a definite answer, so I started to do some investigation on my own to find out how long stroke recovery takes. In the hospital I met other stroke survivors, and although there were some similarities in the way the stroke affected them, each one was affected differently. Their brain injuries were all different.
One man recovered physically, but he couldn’t talk (aphasia). Another man looked completely normal, but his mind was gone and he couldn’t understand or remember a thing. I believe that not being able to communicate is more devastating emotionally to stroke survivors and to their families. There was one man who was administered the clot-busting drug tPa soon after his stroke, and he made a full recovery a few weeks later. Another guy had his eye sight affected and he saw double of everything and had to wear an eye patch. In our stroke support group, we met some survivors who were paralyzed and couldn’t move their arm and hand at all. They were confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their life. And there are many men and women like Steve who experienced semi-paralysis (hemiplegia) or one-sided weakness (hemiparesis), swallowing problems, pain, disorientation, confusion, etc., but are on the road to recovery.
Every stroke is different, so the recovery process for each person is different too. Over 170,000 people suffer a stroke annually in the United States alone. And there could be 170,000 variations of stroke. In most cases people do get better. The effects of a stroke are greatest immediately after the stroke occurs. From then on, improvement may start. How fast and how much depends on the extent of the brain injury, the success of rehabilitation, and the support system the survivor has. It may take weeks, months and years…the process is ongoing.
- Recovery of abilities begins after the stroke is over and the survivor is medically stable.
- Some improvement occurs spontaneously and relates to how the brain works again after it’s been injured.
- Stroke rehabilitation programs help improve abilities, learning of skills, and coping techniques.
- Depression after stroke can interfere with rehabilitation, so it’s important that it be treated.
- Improvement usually occurs most quickly in the first few months after a stroke, then continues over years with continued efforts.
If unrealistic goals are not met, the stroke survivor may lose hope and feel depressed as a result. Progress is progress even if it’s only one inch at a time, so it’s important to celebrate the little successes. Take one day at a time, and keep an optimistic, not unrealistic, attitude.
So to answer the question, “How long will it take to recover from a stroke?” The answer is, “I don’t know.”