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April 9, 2008 > Occupational Therapy - A lifeline to recovery for stroke survivors

Occupational Therapy - A lifeline to recovery for stroke survivors

Each year, about 780,000 Americans suffer a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. That means, on average, a stroke occurs in the U.S. every 40 seconds.
Strokes happen when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked by a blood clot. As a result, part of the brain can't get the blood and oxygen it needs. When any part of blood flow to the brain is interrupted, the body function controlled by the affected area of the brain is unable to work as it did previously.
Of the 780,000 Americans who have a stroke each year, 150,000 die. For the many who survive, it may take months or even years to recover, depending on the severity of the stroke. Some effects may be permanent.
"There are different types of strokes," the Stroke Association continues, "but regardless of type, surviving a stroke can have a devastating impact, not only on the survivor, but on everyone who cares about them."
A common result of a stroke is temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. Vision, memory and speech may also be affected. A stroke survivor may have trouble caring for themselves, including bathing, dressing and working around the house or on the job. They may also have problems driving. Even participation in leisure-time activities can be affected.
Maximizing recovery
When a stroke first occurs, the medical team's primary goal is to stabilize the patient's condition and, as much as possible, to prevent further damage. After a patient is stabilized, occupational, physical and speech therapists play a major role in helping them achieve the best possible recovery.
"It's important to start therapy once a patient is medically stable after having had a stroke," says Christy Casey, OT, an occupational therapist at Washington Hospital. "This can help improve their strength and endurance which, in turn, will increase their independence in performing everyday activities."
Occupational therapists are an important part of the recovery team because, in order to return to independent living, stroke survivors often have to change, relearn or even redefine the way they live their lives. The therapist first assesses an individual's strengths and limitations and, then, begins a treatment plan to address many aspects of the person's ability to function, including:
* Upper body strength, range of motion and coordination;
* Cognition (such as the ability to following simple commands, safety awareness and money management);
* Visual perception (such as the ability to scan visually and awareness of the side of the body affected by the stroke);
* Performance of daily self-care (such as the ability to feed oneself, get dressed, perform toileting, cook, clean house, do laundry); and
* Functional mobility (such as the ability to get in and out of bed, on and off a chair or toilet, and get in and out of the shower safely).
Celebrating Occupational Therapy
April is National Occupational Therapy Month, a time to recognize the achievements and contributions of occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. In addition to stroke therapy, these trained experts help people recover from many other conditions that hinder their ability to perform everyday activities
"For millions of people, the service of occupational therapy is a lifeline," adds Casey. "People of all ages receive this type of therapy to help them participate in the activities of their daily life. Sometimes, they need it to do things we take for granted, like getting dressed, being productive at school or work, and eating unassisted."
Stroke care at Washington Hospital
The Occupational Therapy Department at Washington Hospital is staffed by nine occupational therapists providing specialized care to adults and older individuals who are in the hospital recovering from illness or surgery. The hospital also has an out-patient clinic specializing in the treatment of people recovering from a stroke or head injury.
For those who suffer a stroke, Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, part of the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute, offers the most current approach to treatment using the latest technology. In addition to medical care for an acute stroke, the program provides patients, their families and the community with information about stroke prevention and how to recognize the warning signs when a stroke occurs. Washington's program has earned the prestigious Gold Seal of approval from the Joint Commission for Primary Stroke Centers. For more information about Washington Hospital's monthly stroke support group and stroke education seminars, visit
For more information about stroke, go to To learn more about occupational therapy, go to (American Occupational Therapy Association).

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