Stroke Recovery: What Caregivers Should Expect

woman in stroke recoveryWhen a loved one suffers a stroke, the entire family’s world turns upside down. Suddenly the mother, father, sister, brother or spouse who gave so much is now the one in need of care. And the biggest question everyone has is: Will they recover? How much? How long will it take? Will they need to move to a skilled nursing facility? While the answers to those questions are different for every stroke survivor, knowing what to expect in the stroke recovery period can go a long way to making it easier.

The 4 Phases of Stroke Recovery

Most stroke survivors will go through four phases of recovery. While there’s no time frame on this – according to the American Stroke Association, some patients will still be recovering two years later – the phases themselves are pretty much universal.

Phase 1: Treatment

Treatment, or acute care, begins in the hospital right after the stroke. This first stage includes any life-saving medical intervention, taking immediate measures to prevent a second stroke, assessment of damage and treating any other medical conditions or problems that either predated the stroke or occurred immediately afterward. This is a highly stressful time; your loved one will need family members to be available to talk to hospital staff and, depending on their condition, to make decisions if they can’t.

Phase 2: Spontaneous Stroke Recovery

Almost all stroke survivors regain some of their lost abilities on their own, without therapy. The greatest improvement usually occurs within the first 2-3 months. Sometimes, though, spontaneous stroke recovery continues far longer than that. Keep an eye out for those improvements and celebrate them. When your loved one sees your joy in their progress, it will give them a real lift.

Phase 3: Rehabilitation

Rehab is the longest and most significant phase of stroke recovery. It usually begins as soon as possible, sometimes even in the hospital during the treatment phase, and it refers to all the therapies, services and programs available to help your loved one either regain lost abilities or learn to compensate for them.

The goal of rehab is to enable the stroke survivor to achieve as much independence as possible. As a caregiver, you can help by maintaining contact with your loved one’s team so you know exactly what they are and are not (yet) capable of doing. This level of communication will give you the knowledge you need so you can cheer your loved one on without pushing them too hard.

Often, stroke survivors can benefit from either a short or long-term stay in a facility that offers rehabilitation services. If you feel that this is a good road to take, talk to your loved one’s team. Some stroke survivors balk at the idea, and having everyone on board first can make the subject easier to broach.

Phase 4: Returning to the Community

The last phase of stroke recovery can take a very long time. This is when the stroke survivor returns as much as possible to the life they knew before the stroke. Participating in community activities, taking up old hobbies again, going out with friends and performing as many of the ADLs (activities of daily living) as they can are all part of this phase. Sometimes there will be physical activities your loved one enjoyed that they will either have to give up on or find an alternative way of executing; there might be everyday things like cooking or writing that they’ll now be doing with the opposite hand.

Phase 4 can be very empowering, but it can also be scary. Be there for your loved one by offering support – both emotional and practical – and letting them know that you’re there for them. If they’re moving to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, make sure to visit often and to establish a rapport with the staff.

And yes, keep an eye out for your loved one. If you see anything – lack of balance, falls, or a change in their emotional state – let their doctor know. The best way to recovery from a stroke is never to have another one.

Have you been the caregiver for a stroke survivor? Please share your experiences in the comments below.