In the world of stroke recovery, we’re learning more and more that everything is connected. And sometimes, it’s these connections that provide us with surprising new avenues for rehabilitation. Take reduced hand strength and walking speed, for example. These are negative predictors for general health and cognitive ability in the elderly. But can training these elements have a positive effect on cognitive function in patients recovering from a stroke? Researchers in Korea believe so.
Grip strength and walking speed can improve cognition
The team of researchers recruited 30 patients in the chronic phase of stroke recovery. All received conventional physical therapy. Around half also received 30 minutes of grip-strength and walking-speed training 3 times daily for 6 weeks.
The specialized training was varied and included the use of a ‘hand grip’ exerciser, a power web (a multi-training mesh that trains strength and resistance), treadmill exercise, and leg-strength training. Upon program completion, researchers assessed all participants for improvements not only in strength and walking speed but in cognitive ability.
The results were encouraging. Participants in the specialized exercise group scored higher on a cognitive assessment test than participants who received only conventional physical therapy. They also showed more significant improvements in visual perception, visual ‘searching’, motor ability, agility, and attention.
Add some focused exercises
While further studies can verify these results, this study indicates that seemingly simple, focused exercises could provide unexpected benefits. You can get started at home by squeezing a tennis ball a few times with one hand for 3-5 seconds. Or as you’re walking, add a few faster bouts for 20 seconds or so. To learn other exercises that could help, talk with your therapist about connecting your physical training to your cognitive rehabilitation.
The lead author of this study was Jaeeun Kim, Department of Physical Therapy, Graduate School of Sahmyook University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.