March 10, 2011 -- Stroke patients seem to recover lost or impaired physical abilities more quickly if family members pitch in to help them with exercise therapy, new research indicates.
A study shows that when family members help their loved ones in post-stroke physical therapy sessions, the patients show improvement in balance, motor function, distance they can walk, and other general activities of daily life.
In addition, family participation in exercise routines for stroke patients empowers the caregivers who help and may reduce their stress levels, the study says.
Researchers investigated 40 male and female stroke survivors. Half received routine exercise therapy, but the others additionally received help from family members, as called for by a project known as the Family-Mediated Exercise Intervention, or FAME.
Seven men and 13 women with an average age of 70 were included in the exercise therapy without family assistance group, while the FAME group -- those assisted by family members -- included 13 men and seven women with an average age of 63.
In the FAME group, the stroke patients were helped by family members to do exercises in 35-minute increments, seven days a week for eight weeks. This was aimed at improving leg function.
The exercises were simple enough to be done at the bedside of patients, either in the hospital or at home, and the physical therapy was tailored to each individual. In addition, the exercise was modified on a weekly basis to reflect noticed improvement.
After three months, researchers evaluated the outcome resulting from treatment in both groups.
Training Sessions for Families
Patients’ family members met weekly with Rose Galvin, PhD, FAME’s research physiotherapist and a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, who conducted brief training sessions.
The length of time in hospitals in the family exercise group averaged 35 days, compared to 40 in the patients receiving routine exercise therapy without help from family members.
Researchers say in a news release that they found statistically significant differences between FAME patients and those in routine care in eight measures of impairment and activity.
In a six-minute walk test, for example, the routine group walked 154 feet more after receiving therapy, but those in the FAME group walked 538 feet farther.
Caregivers Under Less Stress
Those in the FAME group had become significantly more integrated into their communities at the follow-up period.
“Instead of adding burden to the caregiver, participating in exercise actually enabled the family member to do something practical for their loved one in hospital,” Emma Stokes, PhD, also of Trinity College Dublin, says in the news release. “Caregivers were less stressed and more empowered.”
She says family assistance provides “a win-win situation for everyone.”
The study is published in the March issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.