Stroke Recovery

The most difficult aspect of having a stroke is living with the disability caused by the condition. Stroke is associated with high morbidity rates, meaning that many patients experience both physical and mental disability following the event. In fact, stroke morbidity is the leading cause of decreased independence and lowered quality of life among adults.

Stroke rehabilitation, however, offers a chance to restore quality of life after a stroke. While damaged brain tissue cannot be healed, stroke recovery techniques can offset some degree of disability. Ideally, rehabilitation helps a patient maintain existing abilities and provides strategies for handling stroke-related disabilities.

The Stroke Recovery Team

While the specific rehabilitation needs depend on the stroke patient’s particular condition, a team approach can be used successfully for most people. A rehabilitation teammay include physical therapists, speech therapists, rehabilitation nurses, and psychologists, as well as the stroke patient’s doctor. Family members may also be part of the stroke recovery team. Even more important than the team, however, is the stroke patient’s attitude. A positive attitude is vital to successful rehabilitation and the team of caregivers can work together to help the patient maintain an optimistic outlook.

Stabilizing Medical Conditions After Stroke

Stroke rehabilitation does not begin until the patient’s medical condition has stabilized. Stabilizing a patient after a stroke includes treating the event and any medical conditions arising from the stroke. It may also include secondary prevention, which is essential for stroke survivors.

Having said this, stroke recovery begins as early as possible. If the patient’s medical condition permits, rehabilitation may begin as early as one or two days after the stroke. Rehabilitation usually begins in the hospital. Once the patient is discharged, rehabilitation centers, inpatient facilities, and at-home programs continue to serve the patient’s rehabilitation needs.

How Quickly Will Quality of Life Improve?

The effectiveness of stroke rehabilitation on improving quality of life depends on many factors: access to rehabilitation specialists, the extent of patient morbidity, the individual’s commitment to recovery, and the patient’s ongoing medical conditions. Generally speaking, the most significant improvements in quality of life occur within eighteen months of the stroke. However, further improvement in quality of life after this time frame remains possible and stroke rehabilitation should be continued until it becomes apparent that no further progress will occur.

Spontaneous Stroke Recovery

Damaged brain tissue cannot be healed after a stroke, but many people experience “spontaneous recovery” in the weeks following the stroke. Lost abilities may return, or areas of disability may become less severe, improving quality of life. This is part of the body’s ability to compensate for neurologic injury. However, spontaneous stroke recovery rarely removes the need for rehabilitation. Usually the patient will still require support in some aspect of recovery.


American Heart Association. (nd). Stroke effects. Retrieved February 11, 2004, from

Lee, J. (updated 2002). Aspiration pneumonia. Retrieved February 19, 2004, from