Study seeks to improve stroke recovery
Every year, 750,000 Americans suffer a stroke, which damages the brain’s ability to send messages to nerves and muscles. As a result, about 60% of stroke survivors lose control of their arms and hands.
One axiom doctors recite after a stroke is, “Use it or lose it.” In other words, if patients practice using their muscles, they will improve their function. However, inactivity can be dangerous, leading to permanently restricted mobility.
For that reason, doctors recommend physical therapy after a stroke. But with PT on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the likelihood of keeping up with those exercises is low. In addition, some insurance companies won’t cover PT after a certain amount of time.
Now researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are testing a web-based program called Strong, which may motivate people to exercise from home.
A new study will compare the difference between paper-based suggestions and a web-based program. People with all levels of stroke impairment are welcome. And everyone can participate from home — no in-person visits are required.
How it works
In the randomized, controlled trial, participants will be split into two groups. One group will be given written exercises; the other will be given access to the Strong therapy program for six weeks. (Participants must own a tablet, smartphone or computer.)
Before the study begins, researchers will check in with participants during a video visit. They’ll send an electronic questionnaire and a consent form.
“Then it’s up to them,” said Dr. Jill Whitall, professor emerita at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science. “We’ll see if this is a viable way of improving their functions.”
The study asks participants to do arm and hand exercises five days a week for three months.
People in the web-based program will be able to choose which exercises to do each day, and some are video games that offer points and other incentives.
“We want to see if this [web-based program] is useful.”
Those who were assigned to the “paper” group can use the Strong program later if they want, Dr. Whitall said. “After the trial is over, [they] can then be transferred into the web-based program.”
Whitall, who spent five years at the University of Southampton, saw a similar study work well in the U.K. “They had done a preliminary trial with good results,” she said. She decided to bring the study to the U.S.
Since the program was designed to be done from home, it’s easy to participate despite the current pandemic. And because stroke survivors usually spend more time at home, this web-based program could be valuable to stroke patients in the future.
Either way, now is a good time to test the program’s efficacy, according to Kelly Westlake, the study’s principal investigator.
“In light of COVID-19, there’s much more use of telehealth now, so this is falling right in line with the development of new at-home therapies,” Westlake said.
Motivation is a key element in stroke recovery, Whitall emphasized.
“This [program] is an alternative to doing nothing,” Whitall said, and its benefits “will last a lifetime. Hopefully something like this will be available someday to everyone, for very little money.”
The Strong study is open to stroke survivors ages 40 to 80. To find out more or to volunteer, call (410) 706-6779 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The print version of this article misspelled Dr. Whitall’s name. It is Whitall, not Whithall. In addition, it misstated the location of the researchers. They are located at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, not in College Park. We regret the errors.