Recovering from Stroke with Occupational Therapy: Living Life To Its Fullest™

Stephanie Yamkovenko

Stroke is the number one leading cause of adult disability, and it is estimated that 5.4 million Americans are living with the effects of stroke. Millions more know the effect of stroke firsthand as family members and loved ones who assist persons recovering from a stroke every day (National Stroke Association, 2009). The majority of those who experience a stroke will need some form of rehabilitation on the path to recovery, and both the stroke survivor and his or her family should be involved in the recovery. Occupational therapy practitioners can help make the process of rehabilitation more productive and effective for the individual’s needs. And when occupational therapy is a part of rehabilitation, the profession’s evidence-based methods can make the recovery easier and more meaningful, allowing the stroke survivor and the caregiver to live life to its fullest.

Occupational therapy practitioners address the physical, cognitive, and mental challenges brought on by a stroke, and can help stroke survivors regain their ability to engage in daily activities through a variety of evidence-based methods. Occupational therapy views the stroke survivor holistically, taking into account their needs, desires, activities, environment, and new limitations. They can recommend equipment for the home that can aid a person in completing tasks, evaluate the home for safety hazards, build a person’s physical endurance and strength, help compensate for vision and memory loss, and provide activities to rebuild self-confidence. The goal of occupational therapy, as a part of the rehabilitation process, is to enable the individual to return to the highest level of performance in his or her valued occupations.

Stroke Strikes Fast: How to Respond

The National Stroke Association wants you to know the symptoms of a stroke so you can act fast and possibly save your own or a loved one’s life.

The F.A.S.T. method for recognizing and responding to stroke symptoms:

F = FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = TIME If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 9-1-1 or get to the nearest stroke center or hospital (National Stroke Association, 2009).

Research shows that clients who receive occupational therapy interventions are significantly less likely to deteriorate and more likely to be independent in their ability to perform activities of daily living at the end of treatment (Scheer, 2007). Occupational therapy interventions also may be associated with reduced caregiver burden, decreased rates of poststroke institutionalization, and increased quality of life for families of persons recovering from a stroke.

When clients are ready to return to their home or function more independently, they will need to learn about transitional and community reintegration services to assist them with engaging in their environment.

Occupational therapy practitioners can identify these resources, incorporate work-related tasks as treatment activities, and conduct comprehensive teaching sessions to help families of stroke survivors learn techniques and programs to assist with improving the client’s ability to participate in all areas of occupation (Furphy, 2005).  

Occupational therapists can conduct an evaluation to determine whether the client can return to specific and important activities such as driving. Practitioners can help individuals regain driving skills and compensate for any deficits through driver rehabilitation programs. If the client is deemed unsafe to drive, the practitioner can recommend alternative means of community mobility.

An occupational therapy practitioner is likely to spend more time with a stroke survivor than any other professional (Barth, Kaminetzky, & Sabari, 2004) and is in a key position to help alleviate some of the client’s physical and emotional challenges. The practitioner can encourage the client to work toward goals, but also create a balance of support when a client gets discouraged (Barth, Kaminetzky, & Sabari, 2004).

A stroke affects not only the stroke survivor, but also family members and loved ones. Rehabilitation after a stroke cannot reverse brain damage, but it can help the brain learn new ways of doing things so that people can achieve the best possible long-term outcomes. Research shows that occupational therapy should be a part of the rehabilitation process because it effectively improves a client’s occupational performance, allowing him or her to live life to its fullest.


AOTA Practice Guideline: Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Adults With Stroke, by Joyce Sabari, PhD, OTR, FAOTA.

Consumer Tip Sheet: Recovering From Stroke

National Stroke Association:


National Stroke Association. (2009). Stroke facts. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Stroke_Fact_Sheet_with_Graphics_6.26.06.pdf?docID=1944

Scheer, J. (2007). Stroke recovery and OT: Finding and using the evidence to inform practice. OT Practice. 12(5), 23–25.

Furphy, K. A. (2005). Welcome back: Community reentry options for stroke survivors. OT Practice. 10(13), 10–14.

Barth, R., Kaminetzky, A., & Sabari, J. (2004). Stroke survivors share insight into rehabilitation. OT Practice. 9(22), 23–24.

National Stroke Association. (2009). Stroke symptoms. Retrieved June 29, 2009, from

Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s web editor.