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May 2007 Issue

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Practice Makes Perfect in Stroke Recovery

Published May 2007

Practice makes perfect, and UC rehabilitation researcher Stephen Page, PhD, agrees this is especially true for people recovering from stroke.

But practice isn’t always what we expect it to be.

Page led a study on the use of mental practice in stroke recovery—specifically targeting arm use and function—and found that incorporating this type of therapy into regular rehab sessions may significantly increase arm function and reduce impairment.

The results were published in the April 2007 issue of Stroke.

Mental practice—also referred to as “motor imagery”—requires that patients repeatedly mentally picture themselves performing a task, like reaching for a cup.

Page and UC colleagues Peter Levine and Anthony Leonard, PhD, studied 32 stroke patients averaging 3.6 years post-stroke. All patients received 30-minute therapy sessions, twice weekly for six weeks. A group of the study participants were randomly assigned to also receive 30-minute mental practice sessions directly after regular therapy sessions.

The research team found that those patients who received mental practice therapy showed “significant reductions in affected arm impairment and significant increases in daily arm function.”

This mental exercise, says Page, works some of the same parts of the brain that are used when actually performing the tasks.

“Our findings support including mental practice in stroke recovery,” says Page. “And mental practice can easily be done at home without supervision, which makes it an ideal supplement to traditional therapy.”

Mental practice and many other rehabilitation techniques will be discussed at the American Society of Neurorehabilitation’s national conference in Cincinnati next month. The annual meeting will be held June 22–23 at Drake Center.

The event, sponsored by Drake Center and the Neuroscience Institute, is designed for rehabilitation researchers and health care professionals and will feature nationally recognized speakers on the topic of neuroplasticity—which is the brain’s ability to recover following injury.

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