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Issue 474, 3 December 2001

New studies into stroke treatment

Standard medical treatment for stroke victims is failing to deal with the common problem of depression. A study by the department of psychiatry has found that psychological therapy for stroke patients can help them cope with their illness, reducing the risk of depression.

Professor Allan House (pictured left) compared two types of additional treatment to see which was most effective at reducing the risk of depression. In a clinical trial, some patients were given psychological therapy by psychiatric nurses, others were visited by volunteers. As a control, a third group were given no extra treatment beyond the standard post-stroke care offered to all patients.

Professor House found that help early on during the recovery process actually reduced depression rates, and the professional therapy was the most effective. While volunteer visits did help patients, when the visits stopped, so did the benefits. The benefits from the therapy sessions, however, were sustained even after the sessions had finished. The standard treatment alone had no effect on the patients' mental health.

Professor House has now received funding from the Stroke Association for a major new study looking at whether depression in post-stroke patients can have an adverse effect on recovery. The collaborative study by academics and clinicians from Leeds, Bradford and York, will be the largest of its kind, involving 900 patients in Leeds and Bradford hospitals.

Professor House said: "Previous follow-up studies have tended to look at physical complications of strokes. This is the largest of its kind to look at the condition in terms of the impact of mental health on outcomes."

A further project, supported by 500,000 from the NHS will assess the influence of continuity of care for stroke patients. The collaborative project involving psychiatry and LUBS will assess how uninterrupted care is perceived by patients and look at its effect on their ongoing physical, social and psychological well-being. The researchers will be asking professionals in the field their views on the practicalities of delivering care, to develop the possiblity of a care package with set targets for the first year after a patient's stroke.

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