How to Keep Living After a Stroke

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Post-stroke. One of the most irregular diagnoses. Movement, cognition, communication, and memory all look different for each person who has experienced a stroke. But for those of you who have had a stroke and are reading this, one outcome is the same: you survived. So how is it that I am writing a blog on how to keep living after a stroke?

I think we all know. Survival does not equal living. Survival doesn’t mean you retained the abilities to dress yourself, comb your own hair, or even feed yourself. Survival doesn’t mean you can walk, remember, or even speak the way you used to. Survival doesn’t mean you can continue to participate in the very things that brought you meaning and purpose in life. Survival does not mean you can immediately continue living as you defined living before having a stroke.

Not much different from the progression of life, stroke recovery is a process. Humans, by nature, strive to be better tomorrow than they are today. Recovery from a stroke should not be thought of as a step backward or as a period of pause until ‘completed.’ Rather, each day presents an opportunity to live better, with more meaning and more purpose than the day before.

Don’t wait to ‘get better’ to start

The infamous promise. As soon as I can move my right arm again, I will cook for my family. As soon as I can walk again, I will fish my favorite spot at the lake. As soon as I can speak well again, I will attend my weekly bridge game.

The starting line in these scenarios is typically moving. If you wanted to wait until you could move your right arm, you will wait until you can pick up a glass of water. If you wanted to wait until you could walk, you will wait until you can walk 2 miles. If you wanted to wait until you speak well, you will wait until you can hold a 20-minute conversation.

Don’t delay living while you recover. Recover while you live.

Sure. You may not be able to do all of the things you did pre-stroke as you did them before. BUT:

· You may be able to do some of the activities you did as you did them.

· You may be able to modify other activities so you can participate in them a little differently than before.

· You are likely to find new activities, which you never thought to have the opportunity to explore until your circumstances changed.

The scientific, physiological fact of the matter is: our brains recover from a neurological insult such as a stroke with repetition of specific and functional tasks. This means, if you want to be able to cook again, your brain and body will relearn as you do the actual task of cooking. If you want to be able to fish again, your brain and body will relearn as you do the actual task of fishing. If you want to be able to communicate better with friends and family, you should start by speaking.

Shameless plug: occupational therapists are specifically trained to help their clients relearn, modify, and identify meaningful activities. Seek out their expertise.

Action steps:

1. List the activities that brought you meaning and purpose prior to your stroke.

  • work or home management tasks

  • leisure or hobbies (crafting, fishing, visiting with friends/family)

  • serving others through volunteer work or religious-related activities

2. List the activities you would like to participate in now—6 months—a year from now.

  • This may include the very basics of self care (dressing, bathing, toileting, brushing your teeth, combing your hair.)

  • This may include any of the activities you listed in step 1.

  • This may include any new activities that peak your interest

3. Brainstorm ways to modify activities from step 2 to fit within your current abilities.

  • learn one-handed cooking techniques

  • find a wheelchair accessible fishing-hole

  • seek out a card-game partner who is understanding of your current abilities and able to assist as needed

4. If needed, seek professional guidance of an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, or a recreational therapist.

5. Choose one activity from step 2 that you can do today.

Give yourself the grace to participate in the recovery process while simultaneously finding meaning and purpose in each day. Recover while you live.

Get out of your pajamas

Has anyone else been really excited for a day off with a plan to spend the whole day in your pajamas, but then at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon you want nothing more to shower and put on some blue jeans?

In my experience, pajamas have been one of the things that have plagued my clients who have had a stroke. Understandably so. For many of them, they spent weeks or even months in a hospital setting where it was necessary to wear pajamas or a hospital gown. Imagine having your work-life stripped from you, losing the ability to leave home independently, or suddenly requiring the need of a walker or a wheelchair in a home that isn’t so a