Yoga Helped Older Stroke Victims Improve Balance, Endurance
05 Jun 2011
An Indiana University study that exposed
older veterans with stroke to yoga produced
"exciting" results as researchers explore
whether this popular mind-body practice can
help stroke victims cope with their increased
risk for painful and even deadly falls.
The pilot study involved 19 men and one woman,
average age of 66. For eight weeks, they
participated in a twice weekly hour-long group
yoga class taught by a yoga therapist who
dramatically modified the poses to meet the veterans' needs.
A range of balance items measured by the
Berg Balance Scale and Fullerton Advance
Balance Scale improved by 17 percent and
34 percent respectively by the end of the
program. But equally exciting to lead researcher
Arlene A. Schmid, rehabilitation research
scientist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA
Medical Center in Indianapolis, was the measurable
gain in confidence the study participants had in their balance.
"It also was interesting to see how much
the men liked it," said Schmid, assistant
professor of occupational therapy in the
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
at Indiana University-Purdue University
Indianapolis. Many of the veterans wanted
the study to continue or asked for a take-home
exercise plan so they could continue the
practice. "They enjoyed it so much partly
because they weren't getting any other treatment.
They had already completed their rehabilitation
but felt there still was room for improvement."
Schmid discussed her findings on Saturday
during the American College of Sports Medicine
meeting in Denver. Her poster presentation,
"Preliminary Evidence of Yoga on Balance and
Endurance Outcomes for Veterans with Stroke"
will be from 7:30 a.m.-11 a.m. in Hall B in
the session for Fitness and Performance Testing
for Posture, Stability and Balance.
Statistics concerning strokes and falls are
grim, with studies showing that strokes can
quadruple the risk of falling and greatly
increase the risk of breaking a hip after a
fall. An estimated 80 percent of people who
have strokes will also have some degree of
The study participants performed poses initially
while seated in chairs and then progressed to
seated and standing poses. Eventually, they all
performed poses on the floor, something Schmid
considers significant because of a reluctance
many older adults have to working on the floor.
"Everything was modified because we wanted them
to be successful on day one," Schmid said.
"Everyone could be successful at some level."
A score of less than 46 on the Berg Balance
Scale indicates a fall risk. Schmid said the
study participants on average began the study
with a score of 40 and then improved to 47,
moving them past the fall risk threshold. The
study participants also showed significant
improvements in endurance based on a seated
two-minute step test and a six-minute walk test.
Schmid said research into therapeutic uses for
yoga is "really taking off," particularly in
mental health fields. Clinically, she has been
watching a small trend of occupational therapists
and physical therapists also becoming yoga
therapists. The yoga performed in the study
was modified to the extent that Schmid said
it would be very difficult to find a comparable
class offered publicly. Such a class should
be taught by a yoga therapist who has had
additional training in anatomy and physiology
and how to work with people with disabilities.
Schmid hopes to expand the study so she and her
colleagues can explore whether such classes
are effective on a larger scale.
The study was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, QUERI.
Study coauthors are Amanda N. Gerwig and Kristine K. Miller, IUPUI and Roudebush VAMC; Nancy Schalk, Heartland Yoga Community, Indianapolis; Marieke Van Puymbroek, IU Bloomington; Peter Alterburger and Tracy Dierks, IUPUI.
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