Strokes are the second leading killer across the globe, according to the World Health Organization, and when they aren’t fatal, they can leave debilitating damage, especially among an older population.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and we applaud you for learning about stroke before your aging parent has one.
If your parent has suffered a stroke — technically a cerebral vascular accident — they may be dealing with an aftermath that includes severe headaches, numbness or weakness on one side, confusion, vision problems, slurred speech, walking difficulties, dizziness, loss of balance, and loss of coordination.
Stroke patients can relearn to use the affected side of their body with professional rehabilitation. It’s helpful to understand in advance what lies ahead:
- Inpatient rehabilitation is considered the gold standard for stroke patients.
The American Heart and Stroke Association recently issued guidelines on adult stroke rehabilitation calling for intensive, multidisciplinary treatment – the exact kind you find in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. The recommendations say that stroke survivors who qualify for inpatient rehabilitation should receive care in that setting instead of in a skilled nursing facility, which is licensed as a nursing home.
These recommendations also include:
- Stroke patients who have trouble walking should undergo intense mobility-task training to help relearn how to perform daily activities, such as climbing stairs.
- Stroke patients who have trouble speaking should undergo speech therapy.
- Balance training should be offered to stroke survivors at risk for falls.
- Exercise regimens tailored to individual stroke patients can help them continue to improve their fitness level once their rehabilitation is complete.
- Results will vary.
The severity of the stroke and the processes affected, along with your parent’s health status and determination to recover, will all contribute to their ability to recover. Studies have shown that patients in a focused rehabilitation program rebound better from a stroke than those who attempt to rehab on their own.
It’s important to note that most recovery happens early. Once doctors have determined that your loved one is medically stable and unlikely to suffer a second stroke, rehabilitation should begin immediately. It is common for rehabilitation to begin within 48 hours of the stroke.
Recovery is most likely to restore lost abilities when begun right away. The greatest gains are generally seen in the first weeks of rehab, but most stroke patients require many months of therapy. Improvements have been seen in patients even as long as 18 months later.
- You DO have a choice about what level of care your parent receives.
If you find yourself with your parent in the hospital as they are recovering from a stroke, and ready to discharge to another level of care, speak up! Tell your case manager that you want your mom or dad evaluated for inpatient rehabilitation since it’s considered a higher level of care. Your case manager can then make the referral to the appropriate person and get the ball rolling.
- The Hospital Therapy Evaluation is often where the road splits.
If your parent is in the hospital recovering from a stroke, a member of the hospital therapy team will evaluate them. If they think your parent can tolerate three hours of therapy a day, it is likely that inpatient rehabilitation will be recommended. If they think your parent can only handle one to two hours of therapy a day, they will likely recommend that your loved one go to a nursing home.
In Tucson, there are two Encompass Health Inpatient Rehabilitation Hospitals designed for exactly this kind of patient. They are both certified in Stroke and Brain Injury rehabilitation. Stroke patients will generally remain in inpatient rehabilitation for a few weeks before going home, where they may continue their therapy on an outpatient basis. Occasionally, there are times a patient needs to go from inpatient rehabilitation to a nursing home.
- There are a multitude of modalities.
Depending on the impact of the stroke, your parent may undergo a variety of physical, cognitive, and emotional therapies. Motor skill and mobility therapies are almost always part of stroke rehab, with the aim of restoring the patient’s ability to walk and do activities of daily living. Range of motion therapy is often included to maintain functionality of limbs.
Because strokes also affect cognitive function, rehab addresses that as well with memory and problem solving games. Speech therapy may be needed to restore the ability to communicate orally, read and write. Doctors may also prescribe anti-depressants or other drugs to combat psychological effects of a stroke.
- The process is long and hard, but many professionals — and supportive family — can make a huge difference.
A host of health care providers may be involved in your parent’s therapy, including physicians, specialized rehabilitation physicians; nurses, specialized rehabilitation nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapists, social workers, psychologists and others. None is as important as supportive family members. Research shows that stroke patients recover faster when family members are involved in their therapy. Family support can make a big difference in the ability of your parent to eventually recover their independence and quality of life. Advocate for your loved one.
Studies indicate that 80 percent of patients receiving comprehensive rehabilitation return to their homes, work, schools or active retirement.
To assess whether inpatient rehabilitation is the right plan for your parent, call either Encompass Health location.
Encompass Health of Northwest Tucson is located at 1921 W. Hospital Drive, behind Northwest Medical Center, and can be reached at 520-544-5216.
Encompass Health Rehabilitation Institute of Tucson is located at 2650 N. Wyatt Drive, behind Tucson Medical Center, and can be reached at 520-322-4415.
Visit EncompassHealth.com/TucsonRehab to learn more.