Public Release: 

Depression Less Frequent In Stroke Survivors Involved In Rehabilitation Programs With Social Support

American Heart Association

DALLAS, Feb. 6 -- Stroke rehabilitation programs that include a heavy emphasis on support and social activities may lead to less depression in people who have a brain attack, according to a study in this month's Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Finnish researchers found after three months that 41 percent of patients treated in the active rehabilitation programs were depressed. That's substantially lower than the 54 percent of depressed patients in districts where rehabilitation programs lacked these extra activities. These rehabilitation programs focused only on physical and speech therapy.

After one year, the percentages of people in both types of programs who said they were depressed had increased slightly -- to 42 percent and 55 percent.

The study also found that the extra services, which were provided by the Finnish Heart Association (FHA), did not reduce depression in the children or spouses of the stroke victims who were being studied.

"The lower depression rate in districts with active programs compared to those without supports the idea that outpatient rehabilitation and support provided may be an effective way of decreasing the rate of depression after stroke," says lead author Mervi Kotila, M.D. of Helsinki University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland.

The scientists studied 321 patients and 195 caregivers at three months and 311 patients and 184 caregivers at the one year mark. There was no significant difference in the depression rate of caregivers between districts with active programs (42 percent) and those without such programs (41 percent) at three months and at 12 months. The results were basically the same (39 percent vs. 42 percent). Caregivers were either children of the patient (37 percent) or spouses of the patient (63 percent).

The researchers noted that after 12 months, there were significantly more severely depressed caregivers in districts without active programs than in districts with such programs.

"Our findings suggest that even a reasonably modest after-discharge rehabilitation program decreases the likelihood of post-stroke depression," Kotila says. "Processes facilitating the patients' return to society and making contacts with other people seem to be an effective means of reducing the burden of depression in stroke patients and their caregivers."

According to the researchers, the people in the study comprise the largest, unselected stroke population in which the occurrence of depression has systematically been examined.

The American Heart Association has a program, Stroke Connection, which helps stroke survivors, their families and caregivers get answers and information about stroke. A toll-free warmline number (1-800-553-6321) is staffed by people who have been affected by stroke in some way. They are available to answer the many questions and concerns which arise after someone has had a stroke.

Co-authors of the study include Heikki Numminen, M.D.; Olli Waltimo, M.D.; Markku Kaste, M.D.


Media advisory: Dr. Kotila can be reached at 011 358 9 471 3884 or by fax at 011 358 9 471 4088 (Please do not publish telephone number.)

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