Brain exercises can help people regain thinking, reasoning, and memory skills after a stroke. Other brain-strengthening activities include eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Stroke recovery begins before you leave the hospital. For the greatest chance of recovery, many people will begin various therapies that can help them transition from a hospital to their home.
Among these stroke recovery activities are brain exercises. While physical therapy or occupational therapy can help with body movement and strength, brain exercises can help recover some of the brain’s capabilities.
After a stroke, some people may experience difficulty with thinking, reasoning, awareness, and memory. This isn’t uncommon. Blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke, and brain cells can die or experience damage. This can change how a person communicates, moves, thinks, and feels.
But brain exercises, like the 10 reviewed in this article, can help you recover and recapture some of your pre-stroke capabilities.
Can a brain heal itself after a stroke, and can brain exercises help?
It is unclear how well brain exercises and activities help people repair brain function after a stroke. It’s also unclear who can most benefit from these exercises.
A favorite childhood pastime can have a positive impact on your brain after a stroke. Classic board games, such as Connect 4, Qwirkle, Battleship, and Guess Who? call on various brain skills, including concentration, reasoning, organization, and memory.
Better yet, most of these games require a partner or partners, and the extra time spent socializing with friends or loved ones can further benefit a stroke survivor’s recovery.
Monopoly isn’t the only childhood game that can be of assistance in stroke recovery. Memory games, like Simon and Tap It, call upon focus and memory skills. These games issue a short sequence, instruct people to follow it, and the sequence grows after each successful round.
Some memory games, like Bop It, also call for physical reactions. Bop It in particular requires you to maneuver parts of the hand-held instrument. While this may be difficult for some people with impaired motor skills, it can help others regain some strength and movement post-stroke.
Some board games and computer games call on critical thinking skills and strategy skills to play and be successful. Popular options, like Catan and Ticket to Ride, and even classic ones, like mahjongg and yahtzee, require you to think ahead and strategize moves for a successful outcome.
Healthcare professionals can use art therapy to help people in recovery from various health conditions. Art therapy can help people relieve stress and express emotions that they may have a difficult time sharing.
But beyond the emotional impact of art therapy, drawing, coloring, painting, or crafting requires people to use analytical skills and hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, holding tools or manipulating art supplies for a long period of time can help improve muscle strength and stamina.
It may seem the last thing you want to do after a stroke is to enter into a new realm of information, terminology, and skill, but it is precisely that challenge that is so helpful for people recovering from a stroke. Learning a new skill or finding a new hobby calls on memory and communication skills.
You may also need to use your arms, hands, or even legs for these skills. That can further help strengthen muscles and regain some motor skill function.
Consider activities like learning sign language, making scrapbooks, gardening, or even bird watching.
You don’t have to have special board games or computer software to find and make your own strategy games. Give yourself brain teasers by doing things like:
- alphabetizing the words in a sentence
- arranging laundry by size or color
- sorting people in your family by their birthdays
- stacking books by size
- dividing medication or vitamins into a pill organizer
Grab the loose change from your nightstand or purse, and count totals, arrange by coin type, or return change. These activities call on short-term memory skills and mathematical reasoning.
Card-matching games have you place various tiles or cards facedown. You flip one card over, then a second card, with the aim of putting matching pairs together. These activities call on memory skills that often need improvement during stroke recovery.
Grab the ink pen and newspapers. Brain teasers, like crossword puzzles and Sudoku, are excellent brain exercises after a stroke. Word searches are good, too. All of these call on and challenge the brain to use analytical skills and reasoning.
You can buy small game books at easy levels, and then gradually move to more advanced options as memory and skills improve.
Side-by-side images with minor differences are great brain-challenging activities for people recovering from a stroke. These activities require you to compare and contrast the images to identify minor changes. This can enhance your spatial processing skills and concentration.
If you or a loved one is recovering from a stroke, it’s important to understand what is possible in terms of recovery. Here are answers to some common questions about stroke recovery.
How long does it typically take the brain to recover from a stroke?
Stroke recovery can happen rapidly in the weeks and months immediately following the stroke. The biggest gains will likely be in the first
What percentage of people who’ve had strokes make a full recovery?
According to the American Stroke Association,
The organization also says that 25% of stroke survivors will have minor impairments in their capabilities, while another 40% of survivors will experience moderate to severe impairment.
Finally, 10% of stroke survivors will require long-term care after a stroke.
What signs or symptoms indicate a person is recovering from a stroke?
If you or a loved one is recovering from a stroke, it can seem like gains or improvements are slow, but certain signs indicate that stroke recovery is advancing. These signs include:
- gaining a degree of independence in everyday activities, like eating or dressing
- needing less compensatory measures, like walking aides or assisted movement devices
- needing more sleep — a sign the brain is recovering and gaining neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to make better and faster connections)
Are there other things you can do (aside from brain exercises) to encourage brain healing?
In addition to brain exercises, you can take steps to help your brain heal after a stroke. These measures may also have protective benefits against a future stroke. These include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet: A diet low in saturated fats and sodium can reduce blood pressure, which is a leading cause of stroke.
- Getting regular exercise: Movement is vital for health, and especially for people recovering from a stroke. Exercise not only helps lower blood pressure, research suggests it can improve coordination and balance. It can also boost emotional health.
- Limiting alcohol: Alcohol can raise blood pressure, which can increase your risk of stroke and impair brain function. Cutting back to a healthy limit (or cutting it out entirely) may boost brain performance after a stroke.
How can you prevent another stroke from occurring?
- Managing blood pressure: Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and taking your prescription medications can improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of another stroke.
- Trying weight management: People who have overweight or obesity can have a higher risk of stroke. Exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet can cut the risk of various health conditions, including stroke.
- Taking medication: Despite lifestyle changes, some people will continue to have elevated risks of stroke. Medications can help reduce these risks. Work with your doctor to identify what medications are right for you.
For stroke survivors, brain exercises are just one component of recovery. Other therapies, like physical therapy and occupational therapy, can also help you recover capabilities that may be impaired after a stroke.
These types of interventions can help people regain some of their pre-stroke abilities. They can also help with the emotional recovery that often follows a stroke.