Motivational Therapy Helps Treat Stroke Patients

People who suffer strokes and then meet with therapists within just a few weeks for motivational talk-based therapy may be less prone to depression and death than patients who receive standard care, a new study suggests.

June 23, 2011 -- People who suffer strokes and then meet with therapists within just a few weeks for motivational talk-based therapy may be less prone to depression and death than patients who receive standard care, a new study suggests.

The research involved 411 patients in a hospital stroke unit with an average age of 70.

All patients received standard stroke care, but on a random basis, half were also assigned to a therapist to undergo up to four half-hour to one-hour talk therapy sessions within two to four weeks of suffering a stroke.

During these sessions, therapists talked with patients about their thoughts regarding the future, what problems they expected to face during recovery, and how confident they were that they could jump these hurdles. And the therapists encouraged patients to identify their own solutions to the problems that they thought they might have over time.

Those patients whose therapists used the motivational techniques, in which they talked about such things as overcoming life obstacles, were less depressed a year after suffering a stroke than people who received only standard stroke care.

After a year, 48% of patients who had early, talk-based therapy had normal mood, compared to 37.7% of people who received standard care.

The talk therapy also increased odds of longer life, according to the researchers. The death rate among the talk therapy intervention group was 6.5%, half of the 12.8% death rate in the group that did not receive talk therapy.

The study is published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Recovery

Depression is a common problem for people who have strokes and can interfere with recovery, survival, and a return to normal activities of life. "These results imply a strong association between mood following a stroke and mortality within one year," study researcher Caroline Watkins, PhD, professor of stroke and older people's care at the University of Central Lancashire in England, says in a news release.

"We found that early intervention helped people set realistic expectations for recovery, avoid some of the misery associated with life after stroke, and may even help them live longer," Watkins says.

Watkins also says that "the simplicity and brevity of this intervention makes it inexpensive to deliver and yet it has the potential to give huge benefits to its recipients."

Like most studies, this one had limitations. For example, patients with severe communication problems were not selected because it would have been difficult for them to participate in talk therapy. And the study was limited to one hospital, where training and supervision of therapists was closely controlled.

Still, the results suggest that motivational talk sessions may prove beneficial to people who have suffered strokes. Motivational techniques may give stroke victims more hope, according to the researchers, who say their study is the first to show a beneficial effect from talk therapy.

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