Skip to main content

Targeted physical therapy important for stroke victims

February 7, 2013

Stroke recovery is often a difficult process for older adults. Sometimes regaining previous levels of independence requires the use of assisted living facilities, and in many cases seniors do not completely recover the same physical function they had before the incident. However, a new study suggests that a specific type of physical therapy in the immediate aftermath could offer a better chance at healthy senior living.

The findings come from researchers at John Hopkins University who observed how a group of mice that had damage to the primary motor cortex due to strokes performed at a test designed to measure reaching and grabbing abilities. Interestingly, the team found that even though the mice had permanent nerve damage to that section of their brain, they returned to their previous level of grasping function after some physical training. 

Experts point to a subsequent brain scan that may offer some clues as to the reason for the extraordinary results. They found that while the nerves of the primary motor cortex were damaged, a different area of the brain took over these tasks after the physical training. Though it may not offer a silver bullet in terms of helping seniors regain all of their motor function in the aftermath of a stroke, it does offer a significant step forward, researchers say.

"In people left with deficits after a stroke, we have been asking how we can encourage the rest of the nervous system to adapt to allow true recovery. This research begins to provide us some answers," said study leader Steven R. Zeiler.

The results underscore the important role that physical therapy plays in helping seniors enjoy independent living in the aftermath of a stroke. According to ABC News, physical therapy can help stroke victims relearn basic functions, such as holding a spoon, but also more significant actions including lower body management.

Addressing the stroke recovery process is an important part of senior health. An estimated 140,000 people die from strokes in the United States each year, and the incidents are the leading cause of serious, long-term disability, which can significantly hinder healthy aging. In fact, as many as 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year.