Widely recognized as an unwanted companion to long-term illness, depression is more than just another side effect. It affects recovery by limiting the benefits of rehabilitation in many post-stroke conditions. There is, however, one approach to chronic stroke rehabilitation that appears to be unaffected by depression. Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) is that therapy. While this is great news for stroke sufferers, there might be more to the story. It seems that as well as effectively treating the underlying stroke-related condition in patients with accompanying depression, CIMT might also improve depression symptoms in this patient group.
Putting constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) to the test
A team of researchers at the University of Alabama looked at data from 40 patients who had suffered a stroke more than one year previously. All patients had mild-to-moderate weakness or paralysis in the upper arm. Thirteen also suffered from depression. Researchers treated patients with 3 to 6 hours of CIMT (in which they constrained the less-affected arm to limit use) each day for ten days. In combination with coaching, this helped to set treatment goals, increase motivation, and place achievements into a ‘real-world’ context.
Of the 13 patients identified as suffering from depression, seven showed clinical improvements in their depression symptoms following CIMT. While this is a remarkable discovery, it leaves many questions unanswered. Are the improvements in mood a result of a life-changing ‘breakthrough’ that followed the intensive program of CIMT? Or are they perhaps linked to the increased feeling of independence that comes with meeting a treatment goal? While we can’t yet say for sure, this study does suggest a clear benefit linked to the use of CIMT in patients suffering from stroke-related depression.
So talk with your doctor about the possible benefits of CIMT to your post-stroke depression — you might be glad that you did.
First author of this publication is Dr Haddad from the Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham.