How long does it take to recover from a stroke?

What factors impact stroke recovery?

Stroke rehabilitation can help you regain your independence and improve your quality of life. The exact timeframe for recovery after a stroke varies from person to person depending on many factors, including severity of your stroke, age, medical comorbidities and prior level of function. The sooner your begin rehabilitation the more likely you are to regain lost skills and abilities.

If you or a loved one has had a stroke, some problems may include:

  • Paralysis or weakness on one or both sides of the body
  • Trouble with attention, thinking, judgement and memory
  • Problems understanding or forming speech
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing
  • Numbness or changes in sensation
  • Nerve pain in hands or feet
  • Problems with bowel and bladder control
  • Changes in vision
  • Depression

According to the National Stroke Association, ten percent of people who have had a stroke recover almost completely. Twenty five percent recover with minimal impairments and forty percent experience moderate to severe impairments that require special care. Ten percent require long-term care in a nursing home or another facility.

Stroke recovery timeline

Day 1 Post-Stroke

After a stroke, stabilizing your medical condition is the most immediate priority. This may include introduction of new medications or attending a variety of tests. Your medical team will be keeping a close eye on your to avoid any medical complications and prevent any further damage from the stroke. Because of this, rehabilitation may start during your initial hospital stay. Beginning the recovery process as soon as possible can increase your chances of regaining affected brain and body function.

The First Few Weeks of Stroke Recovery

After your medical team has determined that you are medically stable, your next step could vary depending on your deficits. They may recommend you attend:

  • Inpatient Rehabilitation Hospital: a freestanding hospital that provides therapy to aid in your stroke recovery while also having access to rehab nurses, physicians, and case management. Other services may be available, such as music therapy and recreational therapy. The length of stay varies upon the complexity of diagnosis.
  • Outpatient therapy: after going home, you may need continued therapy. This may be scheduled for a few hours per week.
  • Skilled nursing facility: these facilities offer nursing care along with rehabilitative therapy services for a few hours per day.
  • Home Health therapy: after going home, you may need assistance or therapy to aid in your recovery. Therapists and nurses may come into your home for 1-2 hours per day to provide care and treatment.

Overall, the goal of rehabilitation is to recover and restore your speech, cognitive, motor or sensory skills. You will most probably be working with a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist to rehabilitate these skills. Depending on where you go next will determine how therapy will look for you.

Speech Therapist (Speech-Language Pathologist)

Speech therapists, also known as a Speech-Language Pathologists, are experts who treat impairments which may include receptive and expressive language, articulation of speech sounds, phonological delays, stuttering, pragmatics, reading, literacy, feeding, swallowing and more. Speech and language therapy also addresses dysphagia, providing treatment to ensure safe and sufficient swallow when eating and drinking.

Occupational Therapist (OT)

Occupational therapy focuses on helping patients gain or re-gain the ability to participate in their activities of daily living. Since we use our arms and hands to participate in our daily activities, you will often see occupational therapy treatment focus on upper body function. OTs are able to address visual, cognitive, and physical skill deficits, make adaptive equipment recommendations, and provide modification strategies in order to optimize performance, independence, and satisfaction with life occupations.

Physical Therapist (PT)

Physical therapy is a form of rehabilitation that incorporates different techniques and procedures to help patients regain their motion and function, and reach their goals of being independent again. Physical therapists specialize in the rehabilitation of injuries that disrupt the normal movement pattern, and facilitate recovery through optimizing range of motion and strength. This is one through tailored exercises and manual therapy intervention.

Psychology Services

Psychologists with specialized training in rehabilitation, health, and neuropsychology help patients, caregivers, and other health care team members understand the impact stroke can have on an individual’s thinking, memory, judgement, emotions, and behavior as well as the significant adjustment to change in functioning that may occur. This may involve evaluation and therapy services in inpatient and outpatient settings. Services are also available to provide support to family during their loved one’s inpatient rehab stay.

1 – 3 Months

During the first few months after your stroke, it is important to participate in therapy to increase your strength and work towards independence. Whether you are participating in therapy at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, at an outpatient clinic or anywhere in between, these therapies are crucial to restoring your physical and cognitive function. During these months, you will likely see the biggest improvements. Recovering from a stroke can be a lengthy process that requires patience, hard work and persistence.

6 Months After a Stroke

After 6 months post stroke, improvements are possible but will likely be slower. While a full recovery is possible, this depends on a variety of factors. It is crucial to continue to see your primary care physician and to attend therapies as possible or perform provided home exercise programs to continue your work toward independence. On your road to recovery, attending community programs and support groups can provide communal support and assistance following a stroke.

Brooks Support Groups:

  • Brooks Rehabilitation Support group
  • Caregiver Coalition
  • Community-Care Giving
  • Memory Loss
  • Stroke Recovery group
  • Brain Aneurysm and AVM Support group
  • Reading for Life Book Club

Brooks Community Programs:

2 Years

Two years after your stroke, it is difficult to say where any single stroke survivor may be on their recovery journey. It is important to focus on small gains and increased independence.

5 Years and beyond: Functional Recovery Continues

As time goes on, recovery looks different for every person. Some may be completely recovered and others may still be adapting to the effects from their stroke.

What are the long-term effects of a stroke?

The effects may be long or short term depending on your recovery. These may include:

  • Paralysis or weakness on one or both sides of the body
  • Trouble with attention, thinking, judgement and memory
  • Problems understanding or forming speech
  • Numbness or changes in sensation
  • Nerve pain in hands or feet
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Problems with control of bowel and bladder
  • Difficulty with perceptual changes or changes in vision
  • Changes in mood and behavior

Additional stroke resources:

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