Stroke rehab is key

Stroke impacts every aspect of a person’s life and the sooner he or she gets to the emergency room at the first sign of any of the symptoms, the less of a disability he or she may have afterward. Jerilyn Alexander, stroke program coordinator, and Sue Amundson, director of Rehab Care, both at Trinity Health, try to hammer home the importance of early emergency room arrival when experiencing any sign of stroke.

The rehabilitation and recovery process from stroke are seemingly not talked about as much as the symptoms, but they are a significant part of the ordeal. Recovery from stroke is varied, Amundson said.

“In July, not a single person came in within six hours,” Alexander said, implying that they had waited too long before seeking emergency medical attention.

The length of time a person who has had a stroke spends at Rehab Care at Trinity depends on the severity of the stroke, Amundson said, and can be from a week to a month. The person is evaluated and then a treatment plan is set up. Length of time in rehab depends on the person’s home situation and support system.

Each person who has had a stroke is required to receive comprehensive care while he or she is at Trinity Rehab Care, Amundson said. The comprehensive care includes social service care, getting the person’s home set up, attending the support group meetings, daily medical oversight, around-the-clock nursing care, meeting with dieticians, occupational and/or physical therapy, having a modified diet and pharmacological oversight. Also, while at Rehab Care, patients have a minimum of three hours of physical therapy a day, Amundson said, including at least two of the comprehensive care services.

“It’s a broad spectrum of services, and it’s intensive,” she added.

New to the recovery process with stroke is a monthly support group held at 7 p.m. at Trinity Health Center-Riverside. Amundson said every month, there will be a focus on a different stroke-related topic. The group met for the first time last month and the second meeting will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 30. The topic at that meeting will be physical therapy and activities people can do at home.

Rehabilitation and recovery from stroke can be a long, tough road. Amundson said a lot of the difficulty with it is the loss of independence and the whole change of adapting to a different way of doing things.

“Also the length of time,” Alexander said, is difficult for people recovering, “because they think they’ll recover tomorrow. ‘When will I get better or get back to normal?’ is a question I always hear.”

“There’s no predicting how well they’ll do (in recovery),” Amundson added. “It’s a fear of the unknown.”

“There are varied levels and time frames of recovery,” Alexander said.

The amount of people having strokes is cyclic, Alexander said, but there has been an increase lately. Some patients have minor strokes and some are more severe, she continued, but there have also been people in their 30s and 40s having strokes.

“But we’re seeing a definite increase in people here who aren’t living the healthiest lifestyle,” Alexander added.

Also, there have been patients coming in to the emergency room with non-typical stroke symptoms like altered mental status, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and balance or coordination being off, Alexander said. The typical symptoms of stroke include weakness or tingling on one side of the body, slurred speech, sudden vision changes, sudden confusion, trouble with walking or balance, or a sudden severe headache that’s different from past headaches. An easy way to remember the symptoms of stroke is with the acronym FAST, from the American Stroke Association: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 9-1-1.

A person’s best defense against stroke is through prevention. That includes living a healthy life, maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol, seeing your physician regularly, maintaining medications, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, controlling alcohol intake and not smoking.

“Just being healthy,” prevents strokes, Alexander said. Also, if you have a family history of stroke, then you have a high risk of having one, Alexander noted.

“There is a high percentage of patients who will have another stroke within five years,” if they have already had one, Alexander said. “And that’s why prevention is so important.”