Researchers in New Zealand have found that it may be possible to improve impaired attention after stroke, which may, in turn, help in the recovery of a patient.
Writing in 'Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association', University of Auckland neuropsychologist Dr. Suzanne L. Barker-Collo highlights the fact that impaired attention is the most prominent stroke-related neuropsychological change, which is reported in at least 46 percent and as many as 92 percent of stroke survivors.
She notes that impaired attention can reduce cognitive productivity, and the ability to focus on tasks. It's key to re-learning motor skills, she adds.
The researcher carried out the first full-scale single-blinded, randomised clinical trial using Attention Process Training (APT), wherein 78 stroke survivors were randomised to receive APT or standard rehabilitation care.
APT is designed to improve the ability to maintain attention, as well as to shift attention-such as when having a conversation with more than one person-and to attend to more than one thing at a time.
Suzanne claims that this is the first time that APT has been tested in stroke patients, though it has been used successfully in people after traumatic brain injuries in several other studies.
She and her colleagues tested participants in four aspects of attention - sustained, selective, divided and alternating -as well as visual and auditory aspects of attention.
The patients who received APT had up to 30 hours of individual training, in one-hour sessions for four weeks. They received on average 14 hours of training.
The researchers noted that the people who underwent APT had a significantly greater improvement on a test of attention than those who received standard care.
At six months, those who had APT had an average improvement of 2.49 standard deviations higher than standard care the patients on "full-scale attention scores".
Although the improvement in attention did not correlate with significant improvements in outcomes, the researchers said six months might not be enough time to gauge the impact of improved attention.
According to them, differences on other measures of attention and broader outcomes were not significant.
Insisting that early identification and rehabilitation of attention should be part of stroke rehabilitation because APT is a viable and effective way to improve attention deficits after stroke, the researchers recommended more research on the issue.