Reintegrating into the workplace after a stroke
Can you go back to work after a stroke? With immediate medical intervention after a stroke and the right set of therapy goals and rehabilitation, you have a much better chance of successfully reintegrating into the workplace.
The bad and good news: according to Dr Fritz Swart, a rehabilitation doctor at the Life Rehabilitation Unit at Life St Dominic’s Hospital, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke each year. A third of people do not survive and a third will end up with a significant disability, which is why it’s important to regularly have your blood pressure checked and be aware of the symptoms of stroke so you can act quickly. But the good news is that going back to work after a stroke is possible for many stroke survivors. This is important for people who are the sole breadwinner, or who simply want to do as much as possible to get back to ‘normal’.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is caused by either a sudden interruption in the blood supply to the brain, or bleeding in the brain, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. As a result, physical and cognitive abilities may decline.
What are recovery goals?
The goal for stroke patients is to regain as much independence as possible – and if your aim is to get back to work you need to be proficient in the following:
Communication and language
‘Many stroke patients find it very difficult to communicate,’ explains Dr Swart, ‘or their speech is limited or confusing, or they misinterpret what other people are saying, which can obviously impact their ability to go back to work (among other things).’
‘Cognitive limitations also play a big role in a person’s ability to engage in work tasks,’ explains Kimara Jalim, occupational therapist at the Life Rehabilitation Unit at Life Entabeni Hospital. ‘These limitations could include difficulty following instructions – both visual and verbal – remembering tasks and problem-solving, [diminished] ability to work unsupervised and difficulty interacting with others.’
‘You’ve got to be able to get to work and move around in the space while there,’ says Dr Swart. Some employers are willing to adapt offices to accommodate employees who are returning to work in an altered capacity.
When can I go back to work?
As each patient’s diagnosis and recovery varies, predicting a patient’s likelihood to return to work at a specified time is extremely difficult, explains Kimara. ‘It’s the responsibility of the treating therapist to determine what roles and duties of employment the patient could manage.’ Can they do the required tasks independently; do they need additional time to perform the tasks, or are they entirely unable to perform the tasks? This will determine if and when they can go back to work.
Is stroke a disability?
According to Dr Swart, the consequences of a stroke can lead to disability. If someone has a stroke and ends up in a wheelchair, that is a disability. But if you have a stroke and you can function at the same level as before, then there’s no disability.
What can aid recovery?
- Vocational rehabilitation is specialised therapy that is targeted at providing a patient with the skills required for employment, be it retraining or learning new skills.
- Work hardening: ‘This involves engaging the patient in activities that are similar to the activities required in their job duties with the aim of improving strength, endurance and coordination that is specific to the required work activity,’ explains Jackie Madombwe, a physiotherapist at the Life Rehabilitation Unit at Life Entabeni Hospital. These activities are aimed at improving strength, endurance, and coordination that is specific to the required work activity.
Mended Hearts is a support group for patients who suffer from heart disease or have had a stroke.
Download a list of the Life Healthcare hospitals that host Mended Hearts meetings to find out more.
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