Stroke patients do single-task training most of the time such as walking or balance training. However, in real life, people need to multi-task. Being able to accomplish several tasks means better daily function and overall quality of life. With this in mind, some stroke rehabilitation implements dual-task training, meaning the patient must do two tasks at once. The combined activities can be something such as walking and carrying a bag or something like walking and talking. It’s important to study whether dual-task training might help stroke patients with the recovery process.
Does dual-task training improve walking?
Chinese researchers looked at this question by reviewing 13 scientific articles that explored whether multi-tasking in stroke training could improve walking. The combination of dual-tasks was variable in each study. Four studies combined walking and another movement. Two used walking with a cognition task. Three studies combined balancing with another action, and two mixed balancing with a cognitive task. In total, almost 500 patients were involved in these studies,12 of which sampled patients with chronic stroke (onset more than 6 months) while only one study
included patients with subacute stroke (less than 6 months). Dual-task training lasted anywhere from 15-60 minutes, and patients exercised about 3-5 times a week for 1-2 months.
The evidence for dual-task training
The researchers found that dual-task training increases scores when measuring walking and balance in stroke patients. However, there was no evidence from the research supporting improvement in walking alone when patients underwent dual-task training.
Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that dual-task training can help your overall coordination of walking, balance, and cognition. Researchers note that their review found most relevant studies to be of low quality. This means not enough evidence fully supports the conclusions. There needs to be more research investigating the potential benefits of dual-task training, and how it can impact recovery of daily functioning in stroke patients.
However, this doesn’t mean you should forget about dual-task training altogether. It all depends on your attention span. Ask your therapist what type of exercise you can try. Combining tasks does prepare you for the real life, where multiple tasks need to be accomplished at the same time.
The first author of this study was Ying He, from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, Kunming, China.