While stroke can be a life-changing event at any age, older patients are more at risk of losing their pre-stroke independence. Conditions such as pain and weakness in the limbs, problems linked to medication, and depression can leave these patients reliant on care from others. Employing a broad approach to rehabilitation can lessen the effects of these conditions. Supporting patients and offering feedback as they engage in task-orientated exercises can improve range and strength in the affected limb. The feedback can also promote positive changes in the affected area of the brain. While this is a well-established approach, effective implementation of such a program can be difficult in older, less physically capable patients. But could a breakthrough be on the horizon in the form of mirror therapy (MT)?
The rationale for MT lies in our ability to trick the brain. By focusing on a mirror image of the right hand, for example, we can stimulate the areas of the brain that are associated with the left hand. A great idea perhaps, but does it work? According to a group of researchers in Poland, it does.
The study of mirror therapy
The researchers investigated MT as an addition to regular therapy in patients with stroke-related hand disability. They found that, when implemented twice-daily in 15-minute sessions for 21 days, MT was better than standard therapy. These results were particularly relevant when it came to improving daily living in older patients with subacute stroke.
Outcomes were dependent on the extent to which the hand was affected. However, this study suggests that MT could provide real benefits to this traditionally difficult-to-treat group of patients. So if you’re an older patient struggling with your rehabilitation program, talk with your doctor about MT. It’s a relatively simple, non-invasive approach that could offer you a real chance of improvement.
The lead author of this publication is Dr. Alina Radajewska, Department of Physiotherapy, Krapkowice Health Centre, Krapkowice, Poland.