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Cognitive challenges after stroke – can a new therapy change things?

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    There’s often a long road to rehabilitation after someone suffers a stroke, so new ways to assess and progress patients along are very welcome. Lucy Norton looks at how two occupational therapy students from the University of Essex hope to change things, following a placement at Colchester General Hospital.

    By Lucy Norton

One of the many issues stroke patients face is accessing appropriate and specific rehabilitation therapy quickly. It is generally recognised that the earlier the intervention and more intensive and specific therapy is, the better the functional outcome is likely to be in the majority of (but not all) stroke cases.

What is the new approach to stroke rehabilitation?

The idea that the University of Essex students came up with was to establish a Cognitive Stimulation Room. This is a separate quiet room in the stroke unit where patients would be assessed and then able to undergo rehabilitation based on the results. Stroke-related injuries can be both cognitive and physical and it is important that both are assessed and adequately addressed in order to give the best possible outcome for each individual.

Whilst physical injuries are more obvious because they are visible, cognitive injuries can be just as disabling. Dealing with this via a specific Cognitive Stimulation Room is a great way of providing the space to assess and provide cognitive rehabilitation.

The Cognitive Stimulation Room was developed by the occupational therapists on the unit using money provided by Health Education England, itself designated for improving the learning environment of students. Therefore both students and patients obtained the benefit of specialist resources, including computer software which can assess the patient and even provide cognitive rehabilitation.

How does this new stroke therapy work?

The software helps stroke victims with their attention span and concentration (by providing repetitive games and tasks for example) and provides memory and planning tasks to help develop higher-functioning skills. In addition, a simple item (such as a clock that gives the date, month and year) was also an important piece of equipment for the patients to be able to ground themselves in space and time.

I have seen, through my clients, how a missed opportunity for rehabilitation early on can really impact on long-term cognitive function. Occupational therapists are invaluable to the rehabilitation needs of patients, sometimes just making sure patients are seen quickly enough can maximise the benefit. Those stroke sufferers who do not get adequate therapy lose that chance to regain  maximum physical and cognitive function.

Any ideas such as this which have led to an immediate impact for patients and staff can only be a good thing and hopefully it will be carried out in stroke units across the country.

If you or someone you know have suffered a stroke, and think it might be as a result of negligence, we can help. Find out more about our brain injury team here.

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