The unfortunate truth is that some people never get over a stroke. They may die from it or be permanently disabled by it. Others, however, hardly know they have had a stroke and return to normal life with little or no help from medical specialists. As a matter of fact, many doctors suggest that people often have very minor strokes that go completely unnoticed. But for those people who survive moderately serious strokes the aftereffects can vary greatly and so can the degree of recovery.
The outlook depends on a number of factors, including the location and seriousness of the brain damage, the ability of certain parts of the brain to take over the work of the destroyed part, the effects of certain medicines, and not least of all, the will and hard work of the stroke victim.
The first goal in treatment is to limit the effects of the stroke or prevent it from getting worse. For example, if you have had a stroke caused by a blood clot, you might be given drugs that slow down the clotting process. This might prevent the clot from growing or other clots from forming. These drugs are called anticoagulants, and one of them may be in your medicine cabinet right now. Common, everyday aspirin has been found to inhibit platelet clumping, which triggers the clotting process. If your stroke was caused by a hemorrhage, however, then the last thing your doctor would want to prescribe is an anti-clotting drug, which enhances bleeding. Treatment for a stroke may begin with drugs, but it doesn’t end with them. The actual duration of drug therapy may be relatively short. What may take a long time, however, is the rehabilitative therapy that starts the moment the stroke has been brought under control. You might think of this as rebuilding a house putting out a fire.
Recovery from a stroke requires more of a team effort than many other serious illnesses. The team has its technical members – such as doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychotherapists, social workers and counselors who specialize in treating stroke victims and their families. And the team has its nontechnical members – the stroke victim and his family, friends and colleagues. The road back can be long and difficult, which means that support from all those concerned is as important as the medical therapy offered.
How far a handicapped stroke victim can go on the road to normality and how long the trip will take cannot be answered simply. Some people make enormous strides within weeks of stroke; others take months or years. The important thing to remember is that for many victims of crippling strokes, there is a possibility a partial or almost complete recovery; achieving it takes the combined efforts of many concerned – and informed – people.