BlogMay 16, 2024

Stroke Recovery: Why Acting FAST is Crucial

Kaitlyn Ners Senior Clinical Liaison for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation smiles at the camera in front a tree.

By: Kaitlyn Ners, MHA, BSN, RN, CRRN, MRMC

Senior Clinical Liaison | Value Based Coordinator

Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation*

Our brain controls everything in our bodies, from our thoughts and emotions to our ability to breathe and move. Blood flow to our brain provides the oxygen necessary to maintain healthy brain tissue. If blood flow is impeded, it can cause a stroke that damages brain cells.Kaitlyn Ners Senior Clinical Liaison for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation smiles at the camera in front a tree.

While each person is different, expedient exercises and rehabilitative measures can help heal the brain after a stroke and allow an individual to regain thinking, reasoning and memory skills.

Q: Studies show that prompt and specialized stroke rehabilitation yields better patient outcomes. Can you explain why?

A: Research has demonstrated that the first three months following a stroke are the most important for recovery. This is due to neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to change and adapt with experience. Specialized stroke rehabilitation focuses on all of the functions that may have been affected by the stroke through an interdisciplinary team approach, providing the best possible chance at meaningful recovery.

Q: What types of strokes are there?

A: There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through an artery inside of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts. Every stroke should be considered a medical emergency.

Q: What are the effects of a stroke?

A: A stroke can affect communication, speech, vision, cognitive function, balance and mobility, making it difficult for the patient to eat, breathe, walk, talk or think independently.

Speech therapy after stroke

A stroke can affect the areas of the brain responsible for language, leading to problems with speaking and understanding speech. Aphasia is a disorder that affects communication. Typically, this occurs suddenly after a stroke. A person with aphasia may speak in incomplete sentences, substitute one word (or sound) for another, use unrecognizable words or struggle to write and understand what they read.

While there is no cure for aphasia, treatment focuses on restoring language abilities by helping patients relearn how to speak and listen. An emphasis on improving written language skills and teaching alternative forms of communication is also key.

Dysarthria is trouble controlling speech, pronunciation and intonation due to weakened speaking muscles. Speech therapy can significantly improve the connection between the brain and the muscles used to speak through neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

Vision loss after stroke

About 65% of stroke survivors have vision problems, according to the American Stroke Association. When a person can't process information in all specific fields of vision they are said to have visual or spatial neglect. When a visual field is completely lost it is called hemianopia. A stroke can also cause eye movement disorders.

Hemiplegia and hemiparesis

A combination of other symptoms can create issues with balance and mobility. Hemiparesis/hemiplegia is weakness or paralysis, respectively, on one side of the body. Hemiparesis refers to partial weakness, while hemiplegia refers to complete paralysis.

Q: How long does it take a stroke patient to recover?

A: Recovery is different for everyone — it can take days, weeks, months or even years. Some individuals may experience a full recovery, while others may have long-term or lifelong deficits

Cognition exercises, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help heal the brain after a stroke. For the greatest chance of recovery, treatments and rehabilitation should start before discharge from the hospital. Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can help retrain the brain to connect to various parts of the body. This reconnection can help with mobility, communication and cognitive function.

Q: What does the phrase "time is brain” mean? What factors can make a difference in stroke recovery?

A:  Many neurologists like to say, “When it comes to a stroke, time is brain.” Recognition of stroke symptoms and rapid involvement of emergency services can increase the chance of meaningful recovery. In short, speed can save brain cells.

In addition to physical, psychological and emotional recovery, it is important that patient’s follow the guidance of their health care team to prevent another stroke. This can include managing pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and implementing strategies to promote a healthier lifestyle.

A graphic showing the FAST acronym signs of a stroke.

What to do if you are having a stroke 

If you recognize or experience any of these symptoms for five minutes or more, please act FAST and seek medical attention.

F: Facial droop or uneven smile

A: Arm numbness or weakness

S: Slurred speech, difficulty speaking or understanding

T: Time to call 911

*Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and RUSH Specialty Hospital are part of the Select Medical family of brands.