Improvement in function can continue long after a stroke, this is because your brain is no average bit of tissue…
The brain is a dynamic organ that changes throughout our lifetime. After a stroke new blood vessels and brain cells help the damaged area recover. Once the circuits for motor function or processing language have been disrupted, the brain attempts to rewire them.
This is where rehabilitation comes in: brain cells have to be given the correct information to complete the broken circuits. Sometimes the circuit may be damaged beyond repair but research demonstrates that task-specific training is effective in improving function (Langhorne 2011).
Cognition is the processing, storage and retrieval of information. Naturally if someone’s ability to process and store information is poor then their potential for recovery will be limited. However, if they’re still engaging with activities then there’s still chance of improvement.
One study found that stroke patients who had been discharged from physiotherapy managed to improve their walking ability with focused training. These patients were seen to have reached a plateau but demonstrated significant improvements in walking ability after training on a treadmill. We’re not suggesting doing interval training after a stroke but we do want to capture this lost potential (Moore et al. 2010).
As well as being able to process information, to get the most out of rehab motivation is key. It’s hard to be motivated when trying to come to terms with a significant loss of function. We discuss drugs that can improve mood, but we want to emphasise your role.
When you visit your loved one you not only distract them from their current situation, you give them something to look forward to. It also addresses the fear of communicating which can itself contribute to low mood.
We find that mood often picks up after returning home, it’s important that rehab is continued. There’s likely more recovery potential particularly if there was noticeable improvement while in hospital.
Langhorne, P., Bernhardt, J., & Kwakkel, G. Strategies for stroke rehabilitation. Lancet. 2011; 377:1693-702.
Moore, L., et al. Locomotor Training Improves Daily Stepping Activity and Gait Efficiency in Individuals Poststroke Who Have Reached a “Plateau” in Recovery. Stroke. 2010; 41:129-135.