So…you’ve just had a stroke. You’re out of the hospital and rehab. Your brain is in a fog and you’re exhausted, both physically and mentally. One side of your body barely functions, including your face. Your speech is as blurry as your thought processes. You might be in a lot of pain. Your vision is also diminished. You may even be suffering from depression.
Well, welcome to the Stroke Club. Over 700,000 new members in the USA every year. This is your new reality. It does not, however, have to be a permanent reality. It can be temporary if you are willing to get to work.
Guided Therapy Is Not Enough
Maybe you have an in-home therapist coming once a week, maybe it’s outpatient therapy, or maybe your insurance benefits that cover physical therapy are exhausted. Either way, you’re a long way from where you want to be. Getting where you want to requires a tremendous amount of work on your part. You need to take charge of your own recovery. The level of activity you get in your weekly guided therapy sessions is not nearly enough. You need to do something every single day.
What can you do if you are bedridden, confined to a wheelchair, or can’t even walk without the assistance of a walker or caregiver? Quite a lot, actually. The important thing is to get started as soon as possible.
Apparently, the doctors have discovered a narrow window of time when your brain is in maximum repair mode. Certain substances are present in large amounts in your brain shortly (a month or two) after an injury, and if you get moving during this initial period, you can maximize healing. That’s why they focus on intense therapy right after a stroke. This is not to say that you cannot improve after this short period, you certainly can, but why waste the advantage?
Even if you are bedridden, it’s important to move. Start with your unaffected side and do stretching and do range-of-motion exercises. Move your good arm and leg every way that you can. Then attempt to mimic those same movements on your weak side. It helps to do both sides at the same time. My therapist tells me that moving symmetrically helps the brain to make contact with the weak side.
Can’t move at all? That’s okay, try anyway. Again, again and again. Even if you get zero response from your weak side, it’s the effort that counts. Even if your muscles refuse to respond, the object is to get your brain in the game and let it know that the limbs are still there. Hopefully, new neural pathways will form to take over for the damaged pathways. They call this Neuroplasticity. This topic is discussed at length in a couple of the books you can find in the Good Books section.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
It may take several thousand (yes, thousand) attempts or repetitions, spread over weeks and months to get your brain to re-engage with your body. Sound like an impossible number of attempts or repetitions, over an impossibly long time? Yes, it is a lot of reps, and it is a long time. But, not nearly as long as being trapped in a dysfunctional body forever.
The trick is to always be moving. Lying in bed? Do your ankle exercises at the same time. Watching TV? Do your arm exercises. Reading a book? Read out loud to give your mouth and facial and muscles a workout. Listening to music? Try tapping along to the beat with your affected hand and fingers. Exercise your brain while you’re at it by doing crossword puzzles.
I am two years out from my first stroke, and one year out from my second. In the beginning, I couldn’t do much at all. I slept most of the time and even needed help to transition to a wheelchair. My right side was almost completely useless. Still, I found the will to get moving. Within a few months, I was able to get around with a walker. Within a year I could do most tasks by myself. Unfortunately, I lost all that progress in my second stroke, and I had to start from zero again. But, start again I did. Now I am back to where was at the 1-year mark. Every day I move. And every week I see incremental improvement in function. All because I move constantly.
I cannot stress this enough – GET MOVING!