Cognitive Exercises After a Stroke

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked or interrupted. The result is a lack of oxygen to the brain, which causes brain cells to die. Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. If a stroke victim survives, the aftermath of the stroke may require weeks, or even months of rehabilitative therapy and treatment. Strokes can cause symptoms such as paralysis, memory loss, speech impairment, one-sided weakness, mood swings, and cognitive decline.

Can a Person Recover From a Stroke?

Yes, recovery is possible, but the road to recovery is usually a long one. Most patients are admitted to a rehabilitation facility following a stroke to receive services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Cognitive therapy is required to give the stroke victim the best chance for recovering his former state of mental functioning. The following conditions can be treated with therapy and supportive follow-up at home.

Speech Impairment

Aphasia, or speech impairment, is one of the most troublesome after effects of a stroke. If a person is unable to speak, he must learn an alternative method of communication until his verbal communication skills are restored. A communication board or a white erase board can be used for that purpose. The patient should be encouraged to use the communication board to point to images that express his wishes or feelings. If the person is able to write, he can use the dry erase board to express himself.

When working with stroke victims, patience is essential. Response time is much slower than it was prior to the stroke. Therapists working to restore speech ask questions, and must wait for the patient to respond in his own time. Games and word building activities are used to encourage and stimulate verbal response. The work area should be free from loud noises and distractions to maximize success.

Memory Loss

Mental associations can be used to help rebuild memory. Therapists can encourage the patient to visualize something familiar to help recall a name or event. Humorous associations such as Jane is so plain, or Take a hike, Mike, will help the patient remember names. Making lists, referencing calendars, and creating written reminders are all useful methods for recalling events and appointments.

Cognitive Deficits

Cognitive performance can be interrupted after a stroke. Therapists encourage stroke patients to complete tasks by separating them into manageable components. Prioritizing is helpful. Stroke patients are easily overwhelmed. Prioritizing the day’s schedule and upcoming events can help a stroke patient determine which tasks to tackle by the degree of importance. Patients should have an advocate to assist them in making important decisions, and to be their voice until they are able to regain their former level of capability.

Stroke recovery can be achingly slow and frustrating. The support of family, friends, physicians, and mental health professionals can help stroke victims move forward with confidence and hope for the future.

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