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Faster Stroke Recovery When Family Helps Out

Study Shows Stroke Patients Recover More Quickly When Relatives Help With Exercise Therapy
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

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.

Families Pitch In

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.

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