Intensive Exercise Helps Stroke Survivors Recover Motor Skills

October 08, 1998

DALLAS, October 9 -- As more people survive strokes, the need for better ways of rehabilitation increases. In a pilot study published in this month's Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers show that an intensive post-stroke exercise program can help stroke survivors recover their motor skills.

"For a long time, stroke has meant going to a nursing home and to live out the rest of your life," says the study's lead author, Pamela Duncan, Ph.D., PT, of the University of Kansas Medical Center, Center on Aging, Kansas City, Kan. "We're trying to give people a renewed state of health through a more comprehensive, structured exercise program.

"This moves beyond the classic concept of rehabilitation. We're going beyond the acute phase of rehabilitation into everyday living not only to improve health and wellness, but to improve strength and balance."

The 20 stroke survivors in the pilot study were divided into two groups of 10 to participate in exercise programs -- one very intensive and the other less intensive. All had a stroke 30 to 90 days before the start of the study, and had completed in-hospital rehabilitation. Participants in the less-intensive program were the control group. The two programs differed in the type of exercise required. For example, members of the control group did balance and resistance exercises, but did not participate in any endurance-building exercises.

The more intensive program was comprised of a therapist-supervised, eight-week, three-times-per-week, home-based exercise program designed to help increase the balance, strength and endurance of the stroke survivors. Duncan and her colleagues found that those on the more intense home-based exercise program showed greater improvement in motor skills than those on the less intensive program. The researchers used several known motor function measurement scales to determine their results.

The goal of this pilot study, says Duncan, was to determine whether a larger randomized, controlled study would be feasible. Currently, a trial is in progress. About two-thirds of people who have a stroke survive it, increasing the need for comprehensive post-stroke rehabilitation programs, she adds. Approximately 4 million stroke survivors are alive today in the United States. Co-authors are Lorie Richards, Ph.D., OT; Dennis Wallace, Ph.D.; Joni Stoker-Yates, PT; Patricia Pohl, Ph.D., PT; Carl Luchies, Ph.D.; Abna Ogle, M.D.; and Stephanie Studenski, M.D., M.P.H.
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Media advisory: Dr. Duncan can be reached by phone at (913) 588-1468, by fax at (913) 588-1201 or by e-mail at pduncan@kumc.edu. (Please do not publish numbers.)
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American Heart Association

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