Optimising mental health after stroke

A new La Trobe University research project will investigate the use of telerehabilitiation to help prevent mood problems and enhance the wellbeing of regional and rural Australians post stroke.

Dr Caroline Baker from the Centre of Research Excellence in Aphasia Recovery and Rehabilitation at La Trobe University has received a $50,000 Seed Grant in the 2021 Stroke Foundation Research Grants round to trial telerehabilitation to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people with aphasia (a communication difficulty).

Dr Baker, with a research team in speech pathology, psychology and health service delivery will carry out the feasibility study titled “Aphasia PRevention Intervention and Support in Mental health (PRISM)”.

Dr Baker said while most aphasia telerehabilitation studies had focused on provision of speech-language therapy, very few had directly targeted mood or mental health outcomes.

"We know people with aphasia are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to survivors of stroke without aphasia,’’ Dr Baker said.

“Unfortunately, the combination of communication and mood difficulties can limit a person with aphasia’s broader recovery, it can result in stigma, loss of relationships and reduced participation in everyday life activities.”

Stroke Foundation Research Advisory Committee Chair Professor Amanda Thrift said the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic saw the use of telehealth in stroke rapidly expanded.

“It is now vital that research is delivered to ensure the benefits of healthcare delivery via this medium are maximised,’’ Professor Thrift said.

“Stroke Foundation’s Research Grant round will kick start this work, providing our researchers with funds to start projects and establish strong foundations for future, larger studies.

“Dr Baker’s study has the potential to improve quality of life for survivors of stroke, particularly those in regional and rural communities where access to psychological therapies may be limited.”

Stroke attacks the brain, the human control centre determining how we move, think, feel and communicate. More than 27,400 Australians experienced a stroke for the first time in 2020 and there are more than 445,000 survivors of stroke living in our community. Around 133,000 of these (30 per cent) can have aphasia.

Regional and rural Australia is bearing the brunt of stroke’s burden. Regional Australians are 17 per cent more likely to experience a stroke than their metropolitan counterparts, regional Australians are also more likely to suffer poorer outcomes from stroke due to limited access to best practice treatment and care.

Stroke Foundation has awarded almost $5.3 million to more than 200 researchers since 2008 in its research grants program.

Media Enquiries | Kathryn Powley | 0456 764 371 | k.powley@latrobe.edu.au