How to Take on the Road to Recovery: One Day at a Time

Road to Recovery – Introduction 

“Recovery is not a race. You don’t have to feel guilty if it takes longer than you thought it would.”
– Anonymous

When faced with an overwhelming, insurmountable challenge, everyone has heard the advice such as “one day at a time” or “baby steps”. Recovering from a brain aneurysm isn’t any different.

A brain aneurysm is a major life event that may require not only to actively participate in therapy (physical, occupational and speech) and adjust to lifestyle changes, but also be patient, self compassionate, determined and supported.

The Brain 

“If the brain is alive, it can learn.” – George Prigatano, Ph.D.

The brain is one of the most resilient organs in the body and is designed to bounce back from injury. In areas where extensive damage has occurred and the brain can’t regenerate, it can adapt by rearranging. This means, the brain has the ability to take on functions (speech, movement etc.) that were once controlled in one part of the brain to another unharmed part.

Additionally, the brain is also meant to learn slowly and incrementally from mistakes. After each error or poor performance, the brain makes tiny adjustments and subtle improvements in function. Therefore, it is important to recognize that recovery could be a lifetime process while the brain rearranges functions and learns by trial and error. All in all, it’s good to remember that this slow and steady progression is normal and should not be viewed as failure.

Not All Recoveries are the Same 

“All things are difficult before they are easy.” – Thomas Fuller

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the length of time or how much improvement will actually occur after treating a brain aneurysm. In the best of cases, patients may have minimal recovery times and no long-term effects. On the other hand, others may face longer roads with life-long challenges. Many factors contribute to the recovery time, such as if and where the aneurysm ruptured, if the patient experienced subsequent medical problems (vasospasm) and the kind of medical treatment they received (open surgery (clipping) or endovascular treatment (embolization)).

Embracing Your Journey as a Brain Aneurysm Survivor 

The physically and emotional challenges survivors endure are traumatic and can cause grief. It is normal to go through stages of denial, anger or frustration, depression or withdrawal, before being able to move on to acceptance. Regardless of where you are on your post-brain aneurysm treatment path, here are some things to consider as you take on the road to recovery and acceptance.

Some physical changes will gradually disappear over time while others may continue for years to come. It is important to remember that even if you feel like you are improving slower than expected, you are not. In many cases, small changes come together to produce big changes over long periods of time. Learning to embrace these feelings of failure and use them as learning opportunities rather than shameful examples of weak character is a healthy way to make progress and move forward.

Most common physical changes are…

Open Surgery (clipping):

• Incision Pain/Numbness
• Hearing Loss
• Jaw Pain
• Clicking Noise in Head
• Seizures

Endovascular Treatment (Embolization): 

• Groin Pain
• Hair Loss
• Fatigue
• Diminished Sense of Smell and/or Taste
• Headaches
• Vision Problems
• Lower Back Pain
• Constipation
• Slowed Reaction Times

Other resources on physical changes:
Learn more about physical changes
Why am I so Tired?


It’s not uncommon for survivors to struggle with the inability to control their emotions, experience changes in their self-esteem and self-confidence or feel depressed, anxious, isolated and alone. Their relationships and idea of a “normal life” could start to change. It is important for survivors to know they are not along during these difficult times. Being able to openly share their feelings and concerns with the right people will put things in perspective and help develop healthy coping mechanisms. In addition to seeking professional help, support groups like the Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s online support community are excellent ways to adjust to the “new” you.

Other resources on social and emotional changes:
Impact on Relationships
How Do I Deal with Depression?

After treatment or an aneurysm rupture, a survivor may experience short or long-term physical or neurological deficits. Sometimes, there are subtle changes or slight deficits that may not be obvious to you or others. Many of these deficits improve with time, especially after therapy. The key is to be patient with yourself and listen to your body. Some days will be better than others. It is normal that one day you’ll be able to reach personal goals but the next day you’ll have to change them according to how you feel.
Learn more about deficits 

Short-term and long-term memory problems depend on where the aneurysm treatment or rupture occurred in the brain. Survivors may also have difficulties absorbing, storing, recalling information and learning new material in general. Professional consultation by a neuropsychologist or other trained rehabilitation professional is the best way to find out what cognitive functions may be impaired and what the best procedure might be for recovery to take place. For general help, here are several strategies for coping with some of the issues…

Absorbing Information: 

  • Link — associate new information with old information.
  • Simplify — avoid sensory and language overload. Shorten sentences for easier understanding; break up large pieces of information in order to focus better.
  • Use apps that help with memory or record new information on your smartphone. Write down notes or memos to help jog your memory.

Storing Information: 

  • Repeat and rehearse — immediately after someone says something or you learn something new, repeat it to yourself. Then wait a few minutes and repeat it again to see if you remember.

Recalling Information (this is hardest for most survivors):

  • Organize — Use a daily planner, calendar, or device such as a smartphone to schedule your day. Never before were “sticky notes” so important. Invest in several packages of these. You can also consider an audio recorder or use your smartphone’s recording function if that will help you remember things.
  • Written plan and “notes-to-self” — Write down all important information, such as doctor appointments, social engagements, birthdays and other important events, and medication schedules.
  • Create a personal data bank — Create a central database to access addresses, phone numbers, and any other information that you will need to meet with people (including doctors and therapists) and recall what specific discussions you had with them.
  • Routine — Recovering from serious illness requires a healthy and well-planned routine. Routines solidify and anchor memories, so they can be recalled much more quickly and with less frustration. Put important items such as keys in the same place each and every time.
  • Regular reviews — Each evening, review your day’s events and recall specific details.
  • Play — Crossword puzzles, word searches, and other games help with information recall.

Click here to download The Memory Book

Back to Your Regular Routine or “New Norm” – Conclusion 

No aneurysm survivor is like any other making each journey unique. Some are longer and harder than others and the outcomes will vary at different points of the recovery process. Striving to resume your regular routine or get back to work  is a common goal and may take a lot of patience to accomplish. Taking one day at a time and recognizing each day’s limitations or growth opportunities will help you achieve that goal. If you are realistic and embrace gradual improvements over a long period of time, you will be proud of your recovery process whether you’ve made it back to a familiar routine or “new norm.”

Other resources:
Learning Principles to Aid Recovery
Brain Aneurysm Foundation Support Community

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