Medical Minute: Stroke Mental Practice

It takes a lot to keep Bill Harrison away from golf, but two years ago a stroke did exactly that.

Bill says, “I went to bed Sunday night, very healthy, never had a health problem in my life. Woke up Monday morning, and I had a problem.”

Bill now only has about 10 percent usage of his left arm. Even turning pages in a book is difficult. University of Cincinnati researcher Stephen Page is studying whether performing mental exercises can help stroke patients recover better.

Stephen Page says, “When someone imagines themselves doing a physical movement such as throwing a ball or picking up a cup, the muscles fire as if you’re actually doing the activity.”

Patients listen to a CD and mentally practice the same activities they perform in physical therapy again and again.

“It doesn’t happen through half an hour of practice. It happens through repeated daily practice over and over and over again.”

Page’s research shows just thinking about an activity causes parts of the brain to activate. In his study, patients who performed the mental exercises saw about a 30 percent improvement in movement, even those who had a stroke up to 13 years earlier.

“Most of them start out with just a little bit of movement in their wrist, and by the end of the study they’re able to do this, they’re able to grab and they’re able to release things, which is a big deal.”

And if it helps Bill hold a golf club again, he says it’s a really big deal.