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March 31, 2010 > Stroke Rehabilitation: A Second Chance to Get It Right

Stroke Rehabilitation: A Second Chance to Get It Right

Reaching for Pre-Stroke Quality of Life, Working Toward Greater Function

When it comes to quality of life and the ability to perform everyday tasks - from work to leisure - stroke has an enormous impact.

Stroke, also known as a brain attack, is caused by either the blockage of an artery or rupture of an artery, and depending on the severity of the stroke, the result is often devastating for many stroke sufferers.

In one study, the majority of patients called living with stroke "worse than death." Furthermore, stroke is cited as the number one cause of long-term disability in the United States, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA) up to 50 percent of patients will die within five years of stroke.

On Tuesday, April 6, from 6 to 8 p.m., Washington Hospital's Stroke Program will host a free Stroke Education Series seminar focusing on both the acute management of stroke that takes place in the hospital as well as chronic care and acute stroke rehabilitation, the stage at which most stroke survivors can make the greatest strides toward recovery.

"If you've had a stroke already, you've missed the opportunity to avoid stroke, but now you don't want to miss the opportunity to avoid it again in the future," says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the hospital's Stroke Program. "It's better late than never."

The better late than never adage is especially true seeing as having had a stroke represents the number one risk factor for having another stroke.

The golden opportunity

Van Houten refers to the acute rehabilitation period, in which patients work with rehabilitation specialists within the hospital, the "golden opportunity" to reduce the risk factors that led to stroke in the first place.

It's all about looking at stroke prevention from a different perspective.

"Risk factors for stroke, in fact a lot of disease processes going on in the body, will lead not only to stroke, but also contribute heart disease, kidney disease, embolism and others," Van Houten explains. "Plus, with stroke, you've got a disability that you're working with. It's important to look at all of these and how you can improve them at this point."

"The tough thing is that these risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all very silent. It's not like you have these nagging conditions that will warn you that you're at risk for a stroke. With stroke, you could be cruising along just fine and then the big one hits."

While his portion of the April 6 stroke seminar mostly focuses on physical rehabilitation after a stroke, Van Houten says the talk will also segue into looking specifically at risk factors.

"Rehabilitation is about getting function back after a stroke; looking at risk factors is about preventing another stroke in the future," he says, citing the example of car maintenance. "Imagine your car gets run down and it blows a rod and you have to have the engine rebuilt. Once it's running again, you want to get it fixed up, including an oil change and replacing the timing belt so that it's going to be reliable down the road."

Van Houten says the same goes for the human body after a stroke. Once doctors have performed acute management of the stroke - to reopen the blood vessel or repair damage from a hemorrhage - the best thing a patient can do is work hard to improve the body's overall health. This means working hard at rehabilitation and reaching for the highest level of individual improvement possible.

There's still no denying that stroke survivors face many challenges, many physical, and just as important, some mental.

"After a stroke many people are depressed with where they find themselves, but during stroke rehabilitation now is the time to rally your will to get better," Van Houten says. "A lot of studies show that people who really embrace this concept of 'I'm going to get better' are the ones that do get better."

He says the unsung heroes of the rehabilitation process are specialists - the physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists - who help patients work toward regaining mobility, relearning activities of daily living and reclaiming the ability to talk and swallow following stroke.

While Van Houten says the first days, weeks and months of rehabilitation can be viewed as the most important in terms of improvement, he points out that it's just as important to continue the process after completing the rehabilitation process.
"Even though there's this golden time in the months after stroke, people can get better for years," he says. "I try to tell people, 'Don't be satisfied with being limited. Keep working on it.' Even if you can't get back to exactly where you were before a stroke, you should try to find a way to do what you enjoyed in a different way. There are stroke survivors who use their arms for cycling and those doing marathons in wheelchairs."

"Remember, the people in the front of the race are always the ones in wheelchairs. There are those people who find ways to compete and do something they really like to do after a setback."

Van Houten says that now is the time to take a long, hard look at the factors that led to stroke and embrace a plan to improve physical function and personal independence.

To learn more acute treatment and management of stroke as well as acute rehabilitation and care, join Doug Van Houten and a member of the Stroke Program's medical staff on Tuesday, April 6, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

For more information or to register for this free seminar, visit and click on "Acute Management of Stroke: Chronic Care and Stroke Rehabilitation" under "Upcoming Seminars."

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