Home-based stroke rehab is as successful as formal rehab programs, researchers find

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Home-based stroke rehab is as successful as formal rehab programs, researchers find
Home-based stroke rehab is as successful as formal rehab programs, researchers find

Home-based physical therapy, when facilitated by a physical therapist, is just as effective as formal rehabilitation programs that use specialized treadmills to treat stroke patients, new research finds.

In what is being described as the biggest stroke recovery rehabilitation study ever conducted, researchers also found that recovery doesn't seem to peak at six months, contrary to popular belief.

"It's a fantastic study, rigorously done," Dr. Richard B. Libman, chief of vascular neurology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY, said in a HealthDay News report. "It's incredibly important . . . not to write patients off after a certain period of time has elapsed. Patients have the potential to improve way after the point where we thought they couldn't."

Researchers at Duke University enrolled 400 stroke patients with moderate-to-severe walking problems from inpatient rehabilitation programs in California and Florida and divided them into three groups. One group received rehab therapy at home, while the other two groups were assigned to locomotor training, which involves using a treadmill while wearing a harness for partial body weight support. Patients in one of the locomotor groups started therapy two months after the stroke, while the other group started therapy six months post-stroke. The home-based group started its training two months after the stroke.

The average age of participants was 62. All received 36 supervised, 90-minute sessions over a period of 12 to 16 weeks.  At the end of a year, all groups saw the same level of improvement in walking ability. The home-based group, however, used less expensive equipment, required fewer therapists and had better compliance rates.

"I think it's going to change the management of stroke, and third-party payers are going to be extremely interested in the results of the study," Libman said. "I think it will save a huge amount of money for the healthcare system and be psychologically and emotionally beneficial for patients."

The study was published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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