Road to Recovery: How Your Occupational Therapist Can Prepare You for Driving After a Stroke

Posted on: 18 May 2016

Stroke patients are normally told that they should not drive for at least one month after suffering a stroke. Depending on the severity of the stroke, this waiting period can be much longer, in which time stroke survivors can understandably become increasingly nervous and even terrified at the prospect of driving again.

Thankfully, the very same occupational therapist who aids and assesses your mobility at home can also assess the same of your physical and neurological ability to drive again. Returning to the wheel is crucial to the independence of many stroke patients and your OT will gladly support you in making this happen through regular physiotherapy. Read on to see how your occupational therapist can help prepare you for driving after a stroke.

Combat your fatigue

Driving requires you to be alert and focused, and one of the first major obstacles following a stroke is overcoming a great sense of fatigue. This fatigue can manifest itself in both a physical and mental tiredness, which is why your occupational therapist will advise a balance of exercise and regular resting periods to help reduce fatigue and conserve your energy.

Post-stroke fatigue can occur even when little or no energy is expended, so it is important that you don't push yourself too much. Your physical therapist will suggest that some days of the week be devoted to being active i.e. short walks or gentle indoor exercises such as yoga. Other days meanwhile, can simply involve practicing cognitive exercises that work to combat your mental fatigue such as crossword puzzles, brain teasers and even playing board games with family and friends.

Your OT may also advise that you take things easier in your day to day life by practicing coping strategies for your fatigue at home. Making these steps a part of your daily pattern will help to improve alertness and physical strength - skills which will greatly benefit you once back in the driver's seat.

Exercise your memory and cognitive abilities

Your cognitive abilities allow you to multitask when driving, and these abilities can be made weaker following a stroke. Fortunately, your occupational therapist can support you in strengthening clarity and memory with a number of exercises and problem solving tasks.

As driving relies heavily on your motor skills and particularly your fine motor skills, mastering hand dexterity exercises will be crucial in determining your ability to drive again. Your physical therapist may assess your efficiency in feeding yourself, for example, or how well you can manipulate small objects such as a pen. Learning to move your fingers, hands and limbs in a coordinated manner again can gradually help your brain re-wire itself and re-learn the driver instincts you can lose following a stroke.

As part of your recovery, your physical therapist may also assist you in daily tasks such as cleaning, preparing food and paying bills - these all involve reasoning and problem solving and by combining this with the aforementioned exercises, your OT can aid you in returning to a normal daily routine. Once your OT has made you feel confident about your cognitive abilities in a familiar home setting, you will come to feel comfortable about putting these into practice in the more complex arena of driving and in many other normal aspects of your life.

Road test your skills

When the day arrives that you are finally ready to get behind the wheel, an occupational therapist with specialist training in driving evaluation will be able to accompany you during your first few times out on the road. This usually consists of a two-part assessment: a pre-road evaluation and an on-road evaluation.

Pre-road evaluation -  In the initial part of your evaluation, an occupational therapist and driving evaluator may discuss your medical history and driving habits. They may also refer you to an ophthalmologist for a visual assessment to asses your vision following your stroke.

On-road evaluation - This portion of the evaluation may be carried out on the same day and will involve driving in a car equipped with passenger side braking system, much like a driving school vehicle. As well as having a driving instructor with you, a driver rehabilitation specialist (typically an occupational therapist with driving expertise) will sit in the rear seat to observe your skills in maneuvering and keeping to correct speeds etc.

Depending on the outcome of your evaluation, both your OT and driving instructor will declare you fit to drive again, or else suggest re-taking the evaluation to allow you to overcome any specific factors that you are not yet confident with. The process of re-learning to drive following a stroke can be frustrating, but with the support of your occupational therapist and regular physio, you can regain your driving independence.

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