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Walking Ability Can Still Improve Years After a Stroke

By November 11, 2007

You might have heard that the large majority of recovery after a stroke happens in the first few months. This is true. This fast recovery is mostly due to a return in the function of partially injured areas of brain in the vicinity of the stroke. What you might not know is that regardless of how long ago a person suffered a stroke there is still a good chance for them to regain function, provided that they implement a diligent rehabilitation program. This type of recovery results from the ever-present ability of the brain to reorganize itself, and to generate new connections which can lead to improved function.

Unfortunately, in spite of the tremendous ability of the brain to recover function after stroke, up to 40% of stroke patients cannot walk independently after they are discharged from rehabilitation programs, and a much larger proportion cannot walk fast enough to cross a street safely. The good news is that this can be changed for many stroke survivors even if their strokes occurred several years back.

A recent study illustrates this concept. The study enrolled patients who had suffered a stroke over four years before the beginning of the study, and who could walk without assistance but not fast enough to cross a city street. The patients completed a four week program in which they participated 3 days per week for 30 minutes each day. During the training program patients used balls of different sizes to perform very simple exercises while walking. The end result was an improvement in walking speed by an average of 30%. For many of the patients this amounted to being able to walk at a speed considered safe to cross a city street.

Even more uplifting is the fact that the ability of the brain to recover is not limited to walking. Similar improvements in other functions such as hand function, speaking, reading and writing, among others, can be expected with appropriate rehabilitation techniques.

If you or someone you know suffered a stroke years ago, remember that it is not too late to recover functions lost. Take advantage of your brainís ability to learn. Speak to your doctor about rehabilitation programs available to you and take a first step towards better function.

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