Research has found that giving patients physiotherapy 20 years – and even more – after their stroke can bring life-changing improvements in hand, arm, shoulder, elbow and finger movements.

These findings overturn the current medical consensus that 3-6 months is the limit for reaching a stroke patient’s full potential for carrying out tasks of everyday life, such as tying shoe laces or doing up buttons. This means that stroke survivors currently receive little to no physiotherapy after the first few months on the NHS.

Researchers have also found that patients are able to tolerate, and benefit from, much greater doses of therapy that they currently have access to.

The study involved 238 stroke survivors between three months and 20 years after their stroke. It found that, in some cases, the therapy made the difference between being able to carry out everyday tasks such as tying back their hair or dressing themselves. This can make the difference between being able to live independently or being dependent on others for at least one aspect of their daily care.

This is potentially a game-changer and I’m really excited about it,” said lead researcher Professor Nick Ward, of University College London. “This feels like the most significant thing I’ve been involved with – like it could really make a difference.

This study is incredibly important because it shows clearly that people still have the capacity to recover years after their stroke. Health authorities everywhere should take note and offer far more therapy,” said John Krakauer, of John Hopkins University in the US.

Professor Marion Walker, of Nottingham University, added: “This study has shown that you can get a sea change – not only to your impairment but to your functional ability. And if you’re a stroke survivor with very little arm movement this is gold dust, it gives hope.”

Dr Kate Holmes, Assistant Director of Research at the Stroke Association, added: “This research is encouraging because it shows that real improvements can be made with therapy far later than is generally considered to be the case.

The research is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

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