UWI academic makes breakthrough discovery
Posted: May 31, 2013
With stroke being the second highest cause of death among Jamaicans, the discovery that a simple outdoor walk could improve mobility after a stroke and help to prevent another, has caused ripples in the medical community.
The breakthrough discovery emerged from the findings of a five year study led by Dr. Carron Gordon and her team from the Department of Physiotherapy at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
Dr. Gordon decided to conduct this particular study after carefully reviewing the available literature and realizing that many patients who had suffered a stroke in Jamaica do not have access to the equipment required for efficient rehabilitation. Often, she noted, lack of access caused many stroke patients to adopt an inactive lifestyle. This would lead to the development of other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
“Even though aerobics have been used in studies before, in physiotherapy and cardiac disease, I wanted to investigate the effects of something that was most familiar and available to the patients as well as free. Therefore, I chose to study walking,” said Dr. Gordon.
A stroke is a condition in which the brain cells die because of a sudden cut in oxygen to the brain. This can be caused by an obstruction in the blood flow or damage to the main artery that feeds the brain. Persons who experience a stroke may die, go into a coma, become temporarily or permanently paralyzed or even lose their ability to speak due to brain damage. Health reports indicate that 25,000 or 1.5 percent of the population have suffered a stroke.
The study started with the selection process: 128 participants, aged 42-90, who had suffered a stroke six months earlier and beyond were selected after being screened twice.
They were randomized in two groups - a control group and a walking group. In the control group, the participants received light massages for 25 minutes, three times per week for three months while the supervised walking group was allowed to walk in their communities or anywhere they felt comfortable (including sidewalks) for 15 minutes three times per week- the time increasing each week.
“It was not supposed to be casual walk; they were encouraged to walk as fast as they could walk. During this time they were heavily supervised as their resting heart rate, endurance, strength and quality of life were continuously monitored by on-hand physicians.”
By the end of the research, it was shown that the participants who were a part of the walking group showed significant improvement compared to those who received massages.
According to Dr. Gordon, “In the walking group, there were improvements particularly with physical strength and endurance. Those in the walking group walked 17.6 percent farther in a six minute endurance test than those in the control group who received massage therapy.” The walking group, she said “were visibly trending towards a better health and quality of life”.
However, these findings, she pointed out, cannot be generalized to stroke survivors who could not walk or who had suffered a stroke less than six months before.“I recommend this walking practice to everyone: persons with stroke, persons at risk of getting the disease or those who want to stay healthy,”
Since the findings have been published, physiotherapists and other specialists are now redesigning their prescribed treatments for stroke survivors, and well-read print and online journals across the United States like the American Heart Association, myhealthnewsdaily.com and usnews.com have been steadily reporting Dr Gordon’s research.
“In the near future, I want to study the effects on mental recovery on the quality of life or even preventing another stroke because the first study was more on the impact of the physical aspect.”
If a policy could be developed nationally to educate or advise community walking programmes, there would be an ease on the health sector, the financial sector and caregivers to treat the nation’s stroke patients, Dr Gordon summarised.