4. Eat well.
A healthy and consistent diet is crucial when recovering from a stroke, from the hospital bed to your outpatient care at home.
One reason food choice is important is because patients in early stages of recovery may experience weakness or incoordination of the swallowing muscles. A care team might recommend soft foods or thicker liquids, because swallowing problems can lead to fluid aspiration which might lead to pneumonia.
Also, certain medications may interact with certain foods, so a rehabilitation specialist can direct you to the best choices.
5. Compliance is key.
I tell my patients if you don’t remember anything in the weeks you’ve been here as an inpatient, the one thing I want you to remember is to see your primary care doctor for regular follow-ups and checkups. Your primary care doctor is essential to your recovery from a stroke, and can make sure your medication needs and health issues are being attended to properly.
Some people may be in denial after a stroke and instead avoid their doctors. But poor compliance with physicians and medications may have got them into these health problems in the first place.
6. Exercise, but within your limits.
Safe levels of physical activity as prescribed by a physical or occupational therapist can go a long way when rehabilitating from a stroke.
What’s important though is you don’t overdo it. People may be excited by improvements in their ability to exercise, but falls are a very real risk following a stroke. That’s why it’s important to stick to your prescribed routine.
7. Limit stress.
I urge patients to keep their lives as stress-free as possible after a stroke. This is not meant to imply that leading a stressed life in some way contributed to their stroke in the first place, but keeping your life more balanced without undue psychological pressures is associated with better outcomes.
8. Stay positive.
It’s very common to have a negative attitude after a serious illness, and some patients experience depression after a stroke — sometimes weeks or months later. However, it is absolutely critical to keep a realistic or positive attitude during rehabilitation to maximize results. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists, who are part of your care team, may recommend therapy and/or medication.
9. Do your homework.
For every stroke patient, treatment at a rehabilitation center eventually comes to an end. When you continue onto the outpatient setting, it is essential you do any homework — otherwise known as a home exercise program — assigned to you by one of your rehabilitation care specialists.
I can’t tell you how many times a patient comes back with a family member or partner to report they’re not getting better, only for a loved one to point out they’re not following their assignments.
It’s never fun to have a stroke or disabling illness, but even if it feels like it’s a grind, do whatever you can to stay up-to-date with your homework.
10. Stay vigilant.
Patients following a stroke face an increased risk of second stroke compared with the general population. Your brain helps you recover from a stroke by asking the unaffected brain regions to do double duty, which means a second stroke can cause far more dangerous effects.
If heaven forbid something gets worse again or you suspect you’re having another stroke, seek out medical attention immediately.
Ira Rashbaum, MD is chief of stroke rehabilitation at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Rehabilitation.