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Rewiring the Brain: Facts about Stroke Rehabilitation

When a stroke causes brain cells to die, neighboring tissue can be engaged to help restore function. 

A stroke is a medical emergency during which blood supply to the brain is disrupted. If this blood flow is not re-established quickly, brain cells begin to die and can no longer perform their functions. This can result in a range of symptoms, all dependent on the duration, severity and location of the stroke within the brain. However, with some assistance, the neighboring healthy brain tissue can be enlisted to help. Stroke rehabilitation can help the brain rewire these lost electrical circuits by recruiting help from adjacent areas in a process called neuroplasticity. 


Stroke recovery can begin immediately.

Stroke rehabilitation typically begins shortly following admission to the hospital. At Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, like most Certified Primary Stroke Centers, consultation by our physical and occupational therapists, as well as speech language pathologists, begins during the admission process. These staff members usually conduct assessments and begin to work with the patients suffering a stroke within the first 24 hours, and once any critical needs of these patients are addressed. Their work with these patients continues each day throughout the hospital stay.

Stroke rehabilitation is individualized.

Evaluations help to identify any rehabilitation needs of the patient following discharge. The therapists discuss each patient’s individual needs with multiple members of the hospital team, including the physician and care manager. These recommendations help to identify various therapies most likely to help the patient relearn skills lost as a result of the stroke.

Independence is the goal of stroke rehabilitation.

The effects of stroke are different for each person. Paralysis, or a reduction in the ability to move, as well as problems with speech, understanding, thinking and memory are common findings in those suffering from stroke. While someone who has a minor stroke resulting in only minimal impact on their ability to move may be able to go home and participate in the rehabilitation process, many others may achieve the greatest benefit from more advanced inpatient rehabilitation in a hospital. Regardless, the goal of the rehabilitation process is to help the stroke survivor return to a high level of independence.

Multiple therapies may help stroke patients.

Each person on the rehabilitation team has a specific role. Physical therapists help to address problems with balance and movement. Occupational therapists work to develop strategies to improve tasks involved with eating, dressing, bathing and cooking. Speech language pathologists work with patients to help improve their ability to talk, read and write and improve swallowing problems.

Collaboration is key for the most successful recovery.

Rehabilitation is most successful when the patient actively participates in these various therapies. Working through the rehabilitative process following a stroke can be very emotional for the patient and their family members. As a result, these emotions can negatively impact the ability to achieve a high level of independence. Therapists are prepared to provide coping strategies for patients and families during rehabilitation. Persistence will allow for the best results.

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Michael Whitehurst is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner with the Neuroscience Team at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare. He has worked within the neuroscience field as a critical care nurse at CRMC for several years prior to obtaining his Master's of Science Degree in Nursing in 2019. He is a member of the Neurocritical Care Society, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses.

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