Plataeu: (v) a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress.(n) an extensive area of flat upland usually bounded by an escarpment (i.e., steep slope) on all sides but sometimes enclosed by mountains. The essential criteria for plateaus are low relative relief and some altitude.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but I feel that it is worth another discussion. It breaks my heart when I read about recent stroke survivors who are in despair after they are told by medical professionals that they have plateaued and not expect anymore improvement six months post-stroke. The “opinion” is prevalent and frankly, distressing.
Athletes, musicians and mountain climbers all hit plateaus. They do not stop training, practicing or climbing. They see these plateaus as an opportunity to hit reset and develop new plans. Often, after these plateaus, the athlete, musician, etc. come out better, stronger and more determined.
The Ugly Cycle
So why then, are stroke survivors told that after six months, we have reached a plateau, not to expect any more progress?
A stroke could cause serious physical and cognitive deficits. Losing the ability to stand, eat or speak is shocking and emotionally devastating. When a patient enters inpatient rehab, therapy is really intense. The stroke survivor will make big improvements. Upon discharge, outpatient therapy is also intense. Progress seems to be at an upward pace. Family members, friends, doctors, and therapists are encouraged by this progress no matter how minor.
Eventually, insurance will limit therapy sessions. The survivor gets tired, friends and family are not as enthused as they have been in the beginning.
Doctors start bringing up the possibility that recovery has stopped. Anyone hearing this will surely be discouraged. The survivor might lose hope and motivation and would no longer work hard on their recovery. Subconsciously halting their own progress.
Do not let anyone put a time limit on your recovery. Change may be slow, but you would still be moving forward.
When you hit a plateau, here are some ideas you might consider in order to help you move to the next climb.
- Continue doing your exercises: Even when it seems you are not making progress, do not stop working on your exercises. Repetition is key to rewiring our brains.
- Challenge yourself. Even if it seems the challenges seem like baby steps.
- Avoid comparison. This is advice that I need to take myself. Seeing other survivors doing things that I could only dream of makes me sad. I need to embrace my own progress. Comparison is self-defeating behavior.
- Reward yourself: It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It could be something as simple as a nice long bath or quiet alone time with a good book. Or a luxurious massage.
- Ask for support: Push your therapy team for help. Ask them for different therapeutic methods they have not tried. Rally your family and friends to continue to push you and help you in your recovery efforts
- Share your success: Share your victories large and small with support groups, family members and/or social media. You never know who you will inspire.
I’ve learned to accept that I am in this recovery trek for the long haul. I will see peaks which I will celebrate, valleys where I can give myself the space to heal and renew my spirit.
When I reach a plateau, I will use it to recharge, analyze and adjust my methods to continue my road to recovery.