While your exact occupational therapy (OT) needs may vary depending on the severity of your stroke, the overall goal of this type of therapy is to help you relearn everyday activities that may have been lost due to brain changes from the stroke.

After a stroke, a doctor may refer you to an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of health and wellness treatment that helps you to be better able to participate in everyday activities, or “occupations,” such as working and taking care of your own needs.

Stroke is a leading cause of acquired disability in adults worldwide. Rehabilitation techniques like OT are critical to recovery and can help you regain independence.

Read on to learn more about OT and its significance in a stroke recovery plan.

Along with prescribing medications to reduce the risk of another stroke, a doctor will likely recommend OT as part of your stroke recovery plan. This may begin while you’re still in the hospital, then may transition to your home and eventually to an outpatient therapy center.

Your exact OT treatment plan and how long you’ll need therapy ultimately depend on how severe your stroke was and how many brain cells were affected. It’s possible to receive OT for 45 minutes per day as part of your recovery plan.

It’s estimated that between 35% and 40% of people who’ve had a stroke experience limitations in carrying out everyday activities for at least 6 months. You may anticipate needing OT for at least this amount of time.

During OT, you’ll work one-on-one with an occupational therapist as they help guide you through everyday skills you need to work, be at home independently, and help take care of yourself.

An occupational therapist will help you develop a plan to relearn specific skills. Some of these life skills may include:

  • getting dressed
  • brushing your teeth
  • cooking
  • eating and drinking
  • bathing
  • toileting
  • shopping
  • balance to help prevent falls
  • therapeutic activities, such as lifting your arms or using your hands
  • memory exercises

Additionally, an occupational therapist may recommend specific equipment for your home to help make daily tasks easier. These include shower chairs, grabbers, and raised toilet seats. Occupational therapists can also teach caregivers and loved ones how to support you.

The benefits of early intervention have also been established. According to a 2021 study, receiving OT immediately upon discharge from the hospital after a stroke was found to increase the chances of regaining independence in as little as 3 months.

There aren’t any known major risks associated with OT, and the benefits of this therapy far outweigh any possible risks. But it’s possible to experience soreness from some of your exercises.

It’s also possible to experience frustration during the process of relearning some of your everyday activities.

If you have insurance, OT may be covered by your policy. Many policies limit the number of sessions that are covered. It’s always a good idea to call your insurance provider to discuss coverage. OT is covered by Medicare when considered medically necessary. A doctor should be able to help provide the needed documentation for coverage.

If you don’t have insurance or your plan doesn’t provide the needed coverage, discuss your options with the occupational therapist. Some therapists offer payment plans or can work directly with an insurance provider.

In addition to OT, a doctor may recommend physical therapy (PT) to help you recover after a stroke.

While the goal of OT is to help you regain independence by relearning everyday tasks, PT helps with relearning motor skills related to:

  • sitting
  • standing
  • walking
  • lying down
  • being able to switch from one position to another, such as getting up after lying down

Due to these benefits, PT is also one of the most common types of rehabilitation prescribed after a stroke.

Stroke rehabilitation therapy is critical to helping prevent long-term disability, which is common in adults who have had this brain injury. Aside from OT and PT, a doctor may recommend other therapies as part of your recovery plan. These may include:

  • Speech therapy: This can help with language and communication difficulties, as well as eating and swallowing food.
  • Psychological therapy: A psychologist may be recommended for anxiety and depression that can develop after stroke.
  • Vocational therapy: This type of therapy is for working adults to help learn skills needed for their jobs.
  • Recreational therapy: A recreational therapist can help you relearn the skills you need to participate in games, sports, dancing, and other recreational activities you’re interested in.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: With this technique, electrical pulses may help treat nerve-related difficulties that may be causing issues with using your arms and hands.
  • Upper extremity rehabilitation systems: These can also help support arm and hand movements.

A stroke causes brain cells to die due to oxygen deprivation and swelling. As part of your recovery, a doctor will recommend a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that will likely include OT.

Not only can OT help you regain skills that can help with mobility and speech, but the therapy can also help you maintain independence. To gain the most benefits, a doctor will likely recommend that you start OT in the hospital or shortly after.