Going Back to Work After a Stroke: What You Need to Know

Henry Hoffman
Thursday, June 29th, 2017
Last modified on September 13th, 2022

Going Back to Work After Stroke

Having a stroke can change a person’s life in many ways. Survivor’s often find themselves unable to speak, swallow, walk, or even use half of their body. These disabilities can make returning to a normal routine difficult, and for many it makes it impossible for them to return to work.

While most people think of the very elderly when they picture a stroke survivor, about 20% of strokes occur in people of working age. This means many people find themselves suddenly removed from the workforce against their will.

After rehabilitation, many stroke survivors do find themselves able to return to work, but preparing for this transition can come with a lot of questions. Are you physically going to be able to perform your job? Will your disability benefits lapse? What do you need to communicate with your employer?


While these can be tough questions to answer, for every stroke survivor they do have answers. For some, they might not ever be able to go back to work, but for others they just need a little assistance.

When Can I Go Back to Work?

When you are able to return to work after your stroke depends on the severity of your stroke and your individual side effects. Keep in mind that you may not be able to return to the same job with the same responsibilities if your abilities have changed.

Before you take steps to return to work, it is important to talk to your occupational therapist about your progress and what realistic goals you can set. Your OT might also be able to refer you to a vocational rehabilitation team that can help prepare you even more for your return.

It is also important to consider your own limits. If you are struggling with cognitive impairments such as fatigue, poor memory, and reduced concentration, you may not be ready to go back to work even if you feel physically capable. Ask a family member or caregiver for their opinion. They might have a clearer picture of your limits than you do.

What Is My Employer’s Responsibility?

Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer is legally required to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. If your stroke has left you with a disability that would make your return to work harder, you have a legal right to ask for a reasonable accommodation to make your work accessible.

During your recovery process, it is a good idea to keep in touch with your employer and communicate with them about your needs and limitations. They may wish to speak with your healthcare provider to learn more about how they can accommodate you on the job site.

Keep in mind that if you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job even with a reasonable accommodation, your employer is not obligated to offer you a different position or create a new role for you. They might be willing to anyway, but it is not a requirement.

What If I Can’t Return to my Previous Job?

What If You Can't Return to Work After Stroke, Going Back to Work After Stroke

If you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job even with a reasonable accommodation and your employer is unable or unwilling to provide an alternative, you will have to search elsewhere for employment. The Jobs Accommodation Network (JAN) can assist stroke survivors with their job search and legal questions. Some good places to start searching for jobs are GettingHired, abilityJOBS and Hire Disability Solutions.

What Kind of Emergency Plan Should I Have In Place?

After a stroke, 1 in 12 people will likely have another one soon after. If you are returning to work, you should have an emergency plan in place in case you experience a stroke on the job.

One good way to prepare is to educate your coworkers about what stroke symptoms look like. You should also let them know how important immediate medical attention is after stroke and ask them to call 911 as soon as possible if you are showing signs of a stroke.

Will I Lose My SSDI/SSI Benefits?

Ssdi Benefits During Stroke Rehabilitation

To receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have worked and paid social security taxes for five of the past ten years, have become disabled before you reached full retirement, and you must be unable to work due to a long-term disability. As long as your condition does not improve and you are under retirement age, you can continue to earn SSDI.

If you decide you’re ready to try to go back to work, there is a special rule called “work incentives” that can allow you to keep your benefits for up to 9 months while doing a trial work period. After that period, if you decide to go back to work, you will no longer be eligible to receive SSDI.

Another option for supplemental income after stroke is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is available to individuals who are over 65, blind, or disabled. It is meant to help them cover their basic needs. If you qualify for SSI you might be able to continue receiving benefits while you return to work, but your payments will be reduced or stopped when you start earning enough money.

What is the Ticket to Work Program?

If you receive SSDI or SSI, you are also eligible to participate in Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. The Ticket to Work program lets you keep your benefits while you receive free employment services such as career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, job placement, and training. This program allows you to work towards financial independence and eliminate your reliance on Social Security benefits while receiving the training you need to start a new career and stay in it.

If you are unable to return to your previous job after your stroke, this program might be a good fit for you. You will be able to work with an Employment Network (EN) or a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency to receive job placement and training.

What if I Can’t Return to Work?

Unfortunately, only about half of stroke survivors are able to eventually return to work. For those who cannot return to work due to long term disability, they can stay on SSDI until they reach full retirement age, which is 67 for most people. Once you reach retirement age, you will still be able to receive benefits, but they will come from a different source. Instead they will come from Social Security’s Retirement, Survivors, Disability Insurance (RSDI) program.

Get Back to Work

Going back to work after a stroke is important for stroke survivors to be able to regain their independence. The stimulation and social aspects of going to work can also help with their recovery. While they might not be able to do all the aspects of their job they used to, there are resources to help them receive the accommodations and training they need to succeed.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.

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