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Five things you should know about recovery after a stroke

Strong support from family members and physicians is essential for a person recovering after a stroke.
Neurosurgeon Andy Grande, MD (right), shares five things you should know about stroke recovery.

Nearly 800,000 people in the United States experience a stroke every year, according to the American Stroke Association.

While each stroke is different, many stroke victims are left with some form of paralysis, problems with movement or balance, difficulties speaking, depression or other issues due to the damage caused by the stroke.

The recovery process following a stroke can be frustrating and difficult, but a strong support system can ease the burden. We asked University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Andrew Grande, MD, who is an advocate for stroke victims, to share five things we should know about stroke recovery.

1) The vast majority of stroke victims do not receive treatment in time.

Patients that have an ischemic stroke—one type of stroke that accounts for the majority of stroke cases—must get treated in a matter of hours if they are to avoid neurologic deficits or problems with nerve, spinal cord and brain function. Unfortunately, about 95 percent of people do not get treated, Grande said, because they didn’t receive care quickly enough or because the treatment wasn’t successful.

Learn more about stroke types and symptoms.

“It’s more than just getting to a hospital in time. Some people are not aware they are experiencing stroke symptoms,” Grande said. “The warning signs may not register with them because they don’t understand what’s happening. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke and the importance of seeking urgent medical care are critical for people affected by a stroke.”

The longer stroke victims go without treatment, the greater the risk for significant, lasting damage. Depending on the effects of the stroke, a stroke victim may need neuro-rehabilitation care, Grande said.

2) Finding an advocate for your care is important.

Often, people who experience a stroke have difficulty with brain and motor functions following the stroke. For this reason, it can be difficult for them to be their own advocate. That’s where a primary care physician can step up to ensure a patient is staying healthy and undergoing the appropriate rehabilitation.

“Patients need a primary care doctor who knows the patient, is an advocate for the patient and is really looking at the patient holistically,” Grande said. “That doctor can handle medical management, care coordination with specialists, nutrition, depression evaluation and many other patient needs.”

Learn more about our stroke treatments and services.

3) Finding the right rehabilitation center makes a difference.

“A patient’s neuro-rehabilitation program can make a huge difference,” Grande said.

Many times, a family or patient will look to a rehab center that is simply convenient or close to home, but the quality of care from one facility to the next can vary widely. It’s crucial that families speak with a family care physician or a neurologist to ensure that a patient is receiving the best rehabilitation care possible, Grande said.

4) Patients need strong family support.

Patients will often find strong support in their medical system immediately following their stroke. For the best long-term outcomes, they also benefit from additional—and persistent—family support.

Families can help patients stay in contact with care providers, can assist in transportation to and from appointments and can help establishing connections with stroke support groups.

“I think it makes all the difference in the world to have that family and support system around you,” Grande said. “I see a huge difference in outcome depending on the amount of family support the patient receives.”

5) Don’t discredit the value of a strong will.

Mindset can make all the difference. A positive attitude and a strong will to get better can be a factor in successful stroke recovery, Grande said.

Grande recommends that stroke victims consider attending support groups or get involved in advocacy groups, like the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, to support themselves and the broader community. He also encourages patients to ask questions and become engaged in their care, noting that some of his own former stroke patients still ask for updates on new innovations in stroke care and want to know what advances are on the horizon.