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Rehabilitation for Stroke

What is stroke rehabilitation?

Stroke rehabilitation  or "rehab" helps you achieve the highest level of independence and quality of life possible — physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually after stroke. It helps restore you to optimal health, functioning, and well-being. Rehabilitate comes from the Latin "habilitas" which means "to make able again."

The stroke rehab team

The stroke rehab team revolves around the patient and family. The team helps set short- and long-term treatment goals for recovery and is made up of many skilled professionals, including:

  • Doctors, such as a neurologist (a doctor who treats conditions of the nervous system such as stroke) and physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation)

  • Internists 

  • Other specialty doctors

  • Critical care nurses

  • Rehabilitation specialists

  • Physical therapists

  • Occupational therapists

  • Speech and language pathologists

  • Registered dietitians

  • Social workers and chaplains

  • Psychologists, neuropsychologists, and psychiatrists

  • Case managers

The stroke rehab program

The outlook for people who have had a stroke today is more hopeful than ever due to advances in both stroke treatment and rehabilitation. Stroke rehab works best when the patient, family, and rehab staff works together as a team. Family members must learn about impairments and disabilities caused by the stroke and how to help the patient achieve optimal function again.

Rehabilitation medicine is designed to meet each person's specific needs. So, each program is different. Some general treatment components for stroke rehab programs include:

  • Treating the basic disease and preventing complications

  • Treating the disability and improving function

  • Providing adaptive tools and altering the environment

  • Teaching the patient and family and helping them adapt to lifestyle changes

There are 5 main types of disabilities that stroke can cause:

  • Paralysis or problems controlling movement, such as walking or balance and/or swallowing

  • Sensory (ability to feel touch, pain, temperature, or position) disturbances

  • Difficulty using or understanding language

  • Thinking and memory problems

  • Emotional disturbances

Stroke rehab can help you recover from the effects of stroke, relearn skills, and develop new ways to do things. The type and extent of rehab goals depend on many variables, including:

  • The cause, location, and severity of stroke

  • The type and degree of any impairments and disabilities from the stroke

  • The overall health of the patient

  • Family and community support

Areas covered in stroke rehabilitation programs may include the following:

Patient need


Self-care skills, including activities of daily living (ADLs)

Feeding, grooming, bathing, dressing, toileting, and sexual functioning

Mobility skills

Walking, transfers, and self-propelling in a wheelchair

Communication skills

Speech, writing, and alternative methods of communication

Cognitive skills

Memory, concentration, judgment, problem solving, and organizational skills

Socialization skills

Interacting with others at home and within the community

Vocational training

Work-related skills

Pain management

Medicines and alternative methods of managing pain

Psychological testing

Identifying problems and solutions with thinking, behavioral, and emotional issues

Family support

Assistance with adapting to life styles changes, financial concerns, and discharge planning


Patient and family education and training about stroke, medical care, and adaptive techniques

Choosing a rehab facility

Rehab services are provided in many different settings, including:

  • Acute care and rehab hospitals

  • Subacute facilities

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Outpatient rehab facilities

  • In the home by home health agencies

When investigating rehab facilities and services, some general questions to ask include:

  • Does my insurance company have a preferred rehab provider that I must use to qualify for payment of services?

  • What is the cost and will my insurance company cover all or part of the cost?

  • How far away is the facility and what is the family visiting policy?

  • What are the admission criteria?

  • What are the qualifications of the facility? Is the facility accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities?

  • Has the facility handled treatment for this type of condition before?

  • Is therapy scheduled every day? How many hours a day?

  • What rehab team members are available for treatment?

  • What type of patient and family education and support is available?

  • Is there a doctor on site 24 hours a day?

  • How are emergencies handled?

  • What type of discharge planning and assistance is available?

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Gandelman, Glenn, MD, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 6/15/2015
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