The role of occupational therapy in recovering from a stroke

KRISTA BROWN

Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability in the U.S. and the fourth leading cause of death in Pennsylvania. If you have had a stroke, occupational therapy has more than likely been a critical aspect of your recovery.

After a stroke, everyday activities can prove to be challenging. It’s important to relearn tasks and build your strength to continue to live as independently as possible. What makes occupational therapy unique in stroke recovery is the approach of caring for the whole patient.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy focuses on helping you develop the necessary skills based on your specific needs and goals. Occupational therapists examine how a stroke has affected your life physically, as well as how it has affected your mind and your lifestyle. Everyone is different, and part of the role an occupational therapist takes is discovering what is meaningful to you.

The first step an occupational therapist takes is to conduct a full assessment and determine how having a stroke has affected you in your role as grandma, husband, or friend. How is it limiting your work, hobbies, and even your social life?

During an assessment, the occupational therapist will determine how the stroke has limited your normal functioning and what your goals are for treatment. Every patient has different goals-from driving to going to the bathroom by yourself or holding your grandchild. After goals are established, the occupational therapist works with you to create a plan to help you reach those goals, including:

∫ Improve your ability to perform day to day tasks.

∫ Exercises or stretches to gain strength.

∫ Cognitive skills to help complete tasks and solve problems.

∫ Making the environment around you safe.

∫ Recommending physical aides or durable medical equipment.

The therapist may use a variety of tools and techniques to help you achieve your goals. Occupational therapists also work directly with physical therapists and speech therapists so you have a whole team of experts when you are recovering from a stroke.

It is important to celebrate when you achieve small goals, so you see success and feel encouraged as you gain strength and independence. Then, you can set new targets as your recovery continues to progress.

One Key to Recovery is Recognizing a Stroke

Immediate treatment for a stroke may minimize the long-term effects and even prevent death. Thanks to recent advances in treatment and public education about stroke symptoms, survival rates have improved greatly in the last decade.

The American Stroke Association uses FAST to educate everyone on how to take action when you think you are having a stroke. FAST means:

r Face-one side of the face droops.

r Arms-one arm is weaker than the other.

r Speech-slurred or nonsensical speech.

r Time-time lost is brain lost, call 911 immediately.

There are also more subtle signs of a stroke that you may not immediately recognize, or you may shrug the symptoms off thinking they will eventually subside. If you recognize these subtle signs it is important to call 911 immediately:

r Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

r Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding.

r Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

r Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination.

r Sudden severe headache, often described as the “worst headache of my life!”

Recovering from a stroke is different for every patient. After a stroke, working with an occupational therapist can help your brain and your body recover. Some patients may need inpatient care, while others only need outpatient rehabilitation. The fortunate ones, who got care quickly and didn’t suffer any brain damage, may go home immediately with no lasting symptoms.

Krista Brown is an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist with Rehabilitation Services at UPMC Williamsport Regional Medical Center. For more information, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/Rehab.

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