Occupational Therapy (OT) and the Aftermath of Strokes
What are Strokes?
Strokes disrupt the lives of many Americans annually and the disease causes difficulties for patients long after they are initially treated. Symptoms can persist, debilitating patients for months, sometimes years after.
Types of Strokes
There are different types of strokes people can have:
- Ischemic: mainly caused by clots, this stroke is when the brain does not have enough blood supply (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion [CDC], 2021).
- Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): This is a type of ischemic stroke but blood flow is paused for a small amount of time, which is why the attack is labeled as transient (CDC, 2021).
- Hemorrhagic Stroke: A brain bleed causes damage to the brain by killing its cells (CDC, 2021).
The effects of stroke include paralysis, aphasia, issues with memory, and behavioral changes. Paralysis can happen on either side of the body, depending on where the stroke occured in the brain (American Stroke Association, 2021). Problems with communication or aphasia is common as well, where patients either have trouble speaking or understanding what is said to them. Memory issues can arise no matter which side of the brain is affected and changes in personality or mood can occur, too (American Stroke Association, 2021). These after-effects may seem grave and permanent, however, patients can be helped by occupational therapy and increase their chances of recovering.
Benefits of Receiving Occupational Therapy
As mentioned before in our blog post about hand therapy, occupational therapy teaches the patient tools to move about in their lives at home. Occupational therapy focuses not only on the aftereffects of stroke but also on how these effects affect the patients’ lives (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2015). The American Occupational Therapy Association (2015) lists different aspects of the patients’ lives occupational therapists can focus on including: activities of daily living (showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed), relationships, addressing concerns patients have about their jobs, behavioral health, and more.
Receiving Care in an Outpatient Facility
Occupational therapists in different settings focus on different therapy goals. At Allied Health Solutions, which is an outpatient clinic, Emily, our OTD, focuses on range of motion, coordination, and strength when she treats stroke patients. One part of therapy is training patients for adaptive equipment which allows for patients to complete tasks that they struggle with due to the after-effects of stroke. For example, some patients have trouble fastening buttons so a tool like the button hook (which allows patients to fasten or undo buttons without stressing out the fingers) can make it easier for patients to button up articles of clothing. Another example is elastic laces for shoes which makes tying shoes easier. Orthoses and splints can provide support for the afflicted areas.
Emily uses manual therapy techniques and neuromuscular rehabilitation. According to her, a major part of outpatient rehabilitation is preventing contractures. Another important aspect of therapy of stroke patients is ensuring that they can complete occupations, or activities, that are meaningful to the patient. For patients, this could be related to their job or a hobby that they enjoy doing. In our clinic, patients’ goals have included knitting, typing, playing an instrument, baking and cooking, and daily self-care tasks. Emily also emphasizes home safety and works on educating the patient and their caregiver (AOTA, 2015).
Dealing with the aftermath of a stroke can be scary and overwhelming for patients, especially if the stroke has a significant impact on the patient and their body. However, with therapy and the right treatment, patients can regain the confidence and independence they had prior to the stroke.
American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA]. (2016). The role of occupational therapy in stroke rehabilitation.https://www.aota.org/about-occupational-therapy/professionals/rdp/stroke.aspx
American Stroke Association. (2021). About stroke. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke
Center for Disease Prevention and Control [CDC]. (2021). Types of strokes. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/types_of_stroke.htm
Oregon Health & Science University. (n.d.). Types of stroke. [Online Image]. OHSU.ohsu.edu/brain-institute/understanding-stroke