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New Hope for the Stroke Afflicted

9555 Michael Sampson
9555 Michael Sampson

As a physiotherapist, I've often heard caregivers of the stroke-afflicted ask: "How do I help my loved one realise their potential post-stroke?"

For carers, this can be one of many unanswered questions: "What is their recovery potential?", "How can I help not just their physical and cognitive recovery, but their recovery of self-esteem?" "Where's the balance between under and over-involvement?" "What should I know that'll make a difference to them and their recovery?"

Working with stroke-afflicted people for many years, I've been cautiously excited over the last decade to see some new research studies help answer these questions. This research affects not just stroke patients, but their carers – who can now feel involved in the recovery of their loved-ones at home, in a tremendously beneficial way.

It's stemmed from further research into "neuroplasticity". In layman's terms that's the brains ability to reorganize itself after an accident or injury.

We know:

1. The brain has an ability to reorganize itself.

2. Each stroke patient has their own maximum recovery potential which is often not fully realized.

3. Recovery can happen well beyond hospital, and outpatient care.

4. The potential for further recovery from stroke can exist, even several years afterwards.

5. A number of factors combined will facilitate maximum recovery.

In the coming weeks I'll detail these factors that aid recovery and how carers can apply them. Fortunately, they aren't time-prohibitive and they help to empower those who've had a stroke.

While we are still learning about neuroplasticity, we now know more about what an effective recovery program includes. There are some surprising activities that help. The good thing is, we know with some measure of confidence we're not offering false hope.

I'm keen to hear from you too, whether you're had a stroke, or care for someone who has. Send me your questions, and I'll do my best to answer them.

Next week:
The 5 things that a stroke-recovery program should include.

Michael Sampson, B.Sc (Canterbury), Dip.Physio (Otago), M.App.Sci (Lincoln), is a clinical and research physiotherapist at Burwood Academy of Independent living in Christchurch, and at Canterbury District Health Board.