I have been an Occupational Therapist since 1997.  My first job was at River Ridge, a brain injury center, in Kennebunk, Maine.  This is where my love for the brain developed.  Did you know that our brains control everything that we physically do, smell, see, hear, say, think, perceive the world and help us experience the world? Each area of the brain has a job to do. When someone has a stroke, often there was a bleed onto an area of the brain. This is almost like putting acid on our skin, it eats away at the brain and diminishes the productivity of that little section.  Sometimes the bleed is severe and a large area is affected.  Other times it is a small area and the affects are subtle.  To learn more about the technical and more specific types of strokes, their causes and results, go to the American Stroke Association or the National Stroke Association.

In all cases, the brain has the potential to re-route neuronal pathways, and that’s the magic of being and Occupational Therapist.  We help facilitate new pathways to grow.

This makes me so happy when I see people making improvements during their recovery.  We don’t appreciate what we have until it goes missing one day, or for several months, which is what happens as people recover from a stroke.  People have the ability to heal from a stroke for years.  It is fascinating!  I once had a young man in his early 50’s who had a stroke 5 years prior.  For 4 years, one of his arms was non useable.  He started to regain some function and he wanted to build on it.  He came to me for outpatient therapy and by the end, he was able to ride his bike around the Back Bay Boulevard in Portland, Maine.  His motivation, willingness to learn and work on exercises at home helped him regain use of his arm.  He even gained function in his hand so that he could grasp the hand brake.

When people have strokes, it is devastating.  For most, their ultimate goal is to return to driving.  Most people don’t realize how complicated driving is.  Driving is one of the highest level tasks we do all day.  Driving uses all of our brain.  It takes adequate vision, depth perception, the ability to quickly process information both visually and cognitively, good attention and ability to quickly shift our focus from one thing to the other.  Physical strength getting in and out of the car, being able to control and coordinate the foot and ankle(or both with standard transmission), ability to grasp and hold the steering wheel, reach for the windshield wipers or change the radio station, change the gear shifter or manage the emergency brake, reaching for the seatbelt.  Timing and coordination with the steering wheel as we enter into traffic or dodge a dangerous situation.  The ability to plan ahead, plan our route while remembering what the final destination is and why we are going there.  Physical ability and flexibility as we turn to check our blind spot before changing lanes or looking behind us when we back up in a busy parking lot.  Memory to remember the list of items we are getting at the grocery store, which kid has to be picked up where and when they need to be somewhere.  Concentration to stay focused in the moment while ignoring unimportant information.

Many people take driving for granted.  It is just something that they have done without much thought for many years.  They feel like driving will be natural when they get back into the car.  For some it does and for some it does not, especially when they have had a stroke.

These are some of the major concerns following a stroke.  Remember, these areas can improve with time and rehabilitation, but not overnight. If you or someone you know has had a stroke and is ready to get back to driving, starting with a comprehensive driving evaluation can be so valuable.  There are simple adaptations that can make a major difference.  If someone can only use one arm, they may benefit from a spinner knob to turn the steering wheel.  Or they may need a blinker on the right side, if the left arm is not working.  Driving rehabilitation is my specialty and Neuro Rehab is my passion.  I have 19 years of experience helping people recover from strokes and other neurological conditions.  Please reach out or share this information with someone you know who may benefit.  I look forward to helping you and your loved ones get back to driving!

Visit Pathways Rehab Services website for more information

Call 207-530-0307 for a free phone consultation to see if this is the right time to drive.