At Strokemark, we have always felt that it’s important for stroke patients to have the chance to continue to improve their health once they’ve left a rehab center. Our at-home rehab program has been years in the making. And now, as the coronavirus crisis creating a new normal for many people, this topic is all the more relevant. That’s why we have adapted our program to be fully remote, and we are giving patients in Germany and the Netherlands the chance to test it out with us.
First, we’d like to give you a glimpse into how we develop our program. We’re proud of the work and research that we put into it, and we thought you might be interested to know what goes on behind the scenes. Our process starts with finding out what stroke patients want to improve. Then we figure out how to help them get there.
Developing the courses
In order to meet the needs of stroke patients, we start by asking them what they want to improve. The top answer? Walking. So that’s where we started. In our quest to find the right exercises and support for stroke survivors, we turned to the experts — scientists!
What many people don’t realize is there are hundreds of research studies going on looking for ways to improve the lives of stroke patients. But it can take years for the outcomes of the research to become public knowledge. That’s where we come in to bridge the gap. We’re dedicated to bringing you these findings much earlier and giving you ways to apply them in your rehabilitation. So, our team reads through scientific study after scientific study to find out what works best for stroke patients.
Once we learn what worked in the research studies, we carefully choose exercises and a sequence for these activities to create an effective plan. We also build in monitoring tools so that patients can see how their bodies are reacting to and changing from the hard work they put into following the program. Being able to see positive effects is highly motivating.
Testing our courses
Once we design a course, we test it in the real world. We invite a group of stroke survivors to try one of our 6-week programs. In the case of our walking courses, our group of ten patients met every Saturday for two hours. With the help of a little coffee and cookies to get us through the intense two hours, we accomplished a lot.
In the first half of the class, we evaluated how the patients were performing the challenges from the previous week. In the second hour, we prepared patients for the next week. We introduced new exercises, explained the science behind the each new move, and made sure our group understood how to perform them properly.
Homework and support during the week
Each week, our patients left with homework. We gave them a plan consisting of daily exercises that they needed to do for a certain amount of time or for a specified number of repetitions. Was the homework easy? No, it had to be challenging. Otherwise, there would be no change.
But our group stayed motivated. We checked up with them twice a week through WhatsApp or email asking about how they were doing and encouraging them to stick with the program even though it was hard at times.
What did we find?
At the beginning and end of the 6-week course, patients filled out questionnaires so that we could measure the impact of the course. And what we found was exciting. Within six weeks, patients not only improved their walking, but many reported positive changes in their attention and memory as well. We even saw one patient whose speech started to improve too. What makes these results really remarkable is that all of the patients were in the chronic stage of their stroke. At this point, many people give up hope of any improvement.
Adapting the course to the COVID-19 situation
In the time since our first test group, we’ve been working to make our courses into something people can do more at home. We’ve been filming instructional videos with stroke patients demonstrating exercises, we’ve been working on an app to support patients through their recovery, and we’ve been teaming up with Chipmunk Health, a company that specializes in home monitoring. And we planned a field test to see how we could integrate our in-person courses with a home-based approach.
This plan would have been a great way to see how patients reacted to following our courses more independently but with a physical meeting every few weeks to track progress. However, as we know, meetings don’t work in the time of COVID-19. That’s why we needed to adapt our planned field test to a program that patients could do entirely at home. We recruited over 60 patients from Germany and the Netherlands to participate. We mailed them packages containing monitoring equipment from Chimpmunk Health to help them track their progress. We supported them over the phone as they set up their equipment. Now, they are getting set up with an app version of our program that will guide them through daily exercises with video instructions. If they get stuck or have any questions, they can communicate with a stroke coach via WhatsApp, email, or a phone call. No physical meetings necessary!
Bringing our program to you
We want to bring our courses to more people who can benefit from them. With our field test, we are learning how to make our program available to stroke patients in the comforts of their own homes. Based on their feedback, we’ll refine our courses and update you as to when our materials are available in your area. Then you can try them on your own!