By Cliff Colgan, Lyons Optimal Wellness
Few physical changes to the body can cause as much devastation to a person and their family as a stroke. The brain damage caused by a stroke varies, but often involves muscle and sensation loss of function, which stops or alters the way you do
everyday movements. Upper and lower body control on one or both sides lessens (sometimes dramatically), and speech and language can also be affected. Within moments, careers can be lost and family relationships changed. Family caretakers may have to temporarily or permanently quit their jobs to care for the stroke survivor. In the next few paragraphs I will explain how to recognize a stroke quickly so effective medical care can limit the damage. I will also, in a very general way (due to space restrictions), explain a new technique, which allows stroke survivors to regain more of their pre-stroke abilities back more quickly and completely.
A stroke occurs when either a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked (ischemic stroke) or a blood vessel breaks and starts bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). Either situation causes a lack of blood carried oxygen to be delivered to the nerve cells in the brain. Every second of a stroke, 32,000 neurons die because of no oxygen. Every twelve minutes of a stroke, a pea-sized area of brain tissue is destroyed. The more tissue destroyed, the more loss of function.
With time such a critical factor, the stroke sufferer and the people around them must know the symptoms or signs of a developing stroke. One way to assess if you or another person is having a stroke is to use the FAST test:
FACE: Ask the person to smile. Do both sides of the mouth elevate equally? In a stroke one side of the mouth elevates more than the other.
ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Do both arms lift equally?
SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a sentence. Are they able to repeat a sentence? Are the words slurred?
TIME: If the person shows ANY of these symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or get to the hospital FAST.
Strokes vary a lot in their severity and function affected, due to the location in the brain and the amount of damaged brain tissue area. Often portions of one side of the body become limp (can be upper body only or upper and lower). A month or two later, spasticity and shortened muscle tissue on the affected side causes tightened muscles of the fingers and hand, elbow and shoulder. If the lower body is involved, the leg can straighten and rotate causing altered walking or the inability to walk.
In the last two decades, researchers have found that the brain can change itself to respond to damage, like a stroke or brain injury. Even adults can re-wire their brain cell connections around damaged areas caused by a stroke. The tree like branches of nerve cells close to the brain damage can grow new connections to close by areas of the brain not normally used for that function.
These new connections are not initially easy to make in a stroke survivor. After a stroke, a person can lose the use of their shoulder, arm and/or hand on one side of their body. To get by, they use the less damaged arm and hand on the other side. The learned non-use of the most damaged side causes the brain cells connected to that side of the brain to weaken. If the weaker, more non-functional arm and hand is not used over and over again after a stroke, it will NEVER gain back its function.
But if the weak side of the body is forced to try to do various movements, like trying to pick a domino or place a peg in a board over and over again the movements start to come back! It is possible to make significant improvements in a stroke survivor’s ability to do functional movements, like set a table, pour their coffee, button their shirt. Let me state again, these gains do not come easily. A skilled person is needed to guide the stroke survivor through these movement repetitions (sometimes ad nauseum) to get the desired results.
Stroke rehabilitation comes faster and more effectively when the stroke survivor has a very clear vision of an ability they want back very much. This vision needs to be expressed to the facilitator or therapist, and the therapist must include the stroke survivor’s wishes in their therapy action plan. Urgency and a “failure is not an option” attitude are important for the stroke survivor to be successful.
This writer is so impressed with the new rehabilitation techniques available to enhance a stroke survivor’s recovery that I am putting together a team of stroke recovery specialists. These people, some of them specially trained physical and occupational therapists, will be able to assess a stroke survivors loss of function and put together a plan of rehabilitation. This plan will be based on the stroke survivor’s most important goals. Even if the stroke is many years past, it is possible to make much more progress for the stroke survivor if they are strongly motivated.