Aaron Ulland, 41, was “stroke patient one” in a daring new study that tested — successfully — the possibility of restoring the brain-muscle connection using tiny electrodes implanted in his brain to move a brace worn on his immobile arm. Although this was preliminary, the fact that the technology worked offers hope that, down the road, damaged neural connections can be restored with implanted electrical devices to give stroke victims independent function in their limbs.
Until that day, there’s an alternative for some stroke sufferers, according to a new pilot study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers found that exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation — three 31- to 50-minute exercise sessions weekly for 12 weeks — significantly improves walking speed, cardiovascular endurance, functional strength and emotional health.
The results indicated that exercise rehab should be done after post-stroke physical therapy (some participants had a stroke a year before they started the program). Many people could benefit. After all, an American has a stroke every 40 seconds, and 10% to 15% of stroke victims, like Aaron, are 18-49 years old.
Unfortunately, cardiac rehab for stroke patients is not generally covered by insurers in the U.S. (unbelievable!). So if you or a loved one has had a stroke, your best bet is to talk with your doctor, hospital and physical therapists about finding a program in your area that can offer physical — and financial — support for your participation in exercise-based cardio rehab. And lobby lawmakers to make it mandatory for insurance to cover it.