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Optimism an Aid to Stroke Recovery

September 12, 2008

Stroke survivors with a positive outlook function better on their own three months after leaving the hospital than their gloomier counterparts, new research shows. The study, which was headed by Dr. Glenn V. Ostir of the University of Texas, surveyed 823 recovering stroke patients age 55 or older while they were in the hospital. A follow up survey was also given to the recovering patients 3 months after discharge.
Optimism levels were scored on a positive emotion summary test, while ability to function independently was ranked through the standardized Functional Independence Measure (FIM) test. The four positive items included in the test were:

• “I felt that I was just as good as other people.”
• “I felt hopeful about the future.”
• “I was happy,” and
• “I enjoyed life.”

The researchers found a significant positive correlation between positive emotion and functional independence. In other words, for every one-point increase on the positive emotion test, the patient’s FIM rose about one point as well.

In 1866, James White was in just such a downward spiral. White had survived a stroke, but when doctors told him an active life could give him another stroke, he took their advice to heart. His wife had other ideas, however. A health visionary ahead of her time, Ellen White firmly believed that James had no hope of recovery without mental and physical action.

Ellen started James’ stroke recovery program by instructing her sons to purchase 3 hoes. As a family, they planted a garden and set out fruit trees. Although James went through the motions of helping, his efforts were somewhat lame.

When haying time came around, James expected the neighbors to help. The neighbors knew, liked, and cared about James. So they normally would have helped. But Ellen, who knew how badly James needed to do this himself, asked the neighbors to “make themselves busy.”

“When James sends for you, tell him you’re pressed with work of your own, and you’ll suffer loss if you leave it.” The neighbors hesitated at first, but when Ellen explained that this was a stroke recovery program, they agreed to cooperate. James was disappointed when the neighbors didn’t show up, but once again, Ellen rose to the occasion.

“Let us show the neighbors that we can attend to the work ourselves,” she said. Ellen then suggested a way for the little family to get the job done. James’ job was to pitch the hay up to the haystack, where Ellen would stack it up.

“I pitched hay for 6-12 hours a day all week long,” James later wrote, “and slept very well.” Prior to that, and just after his stroke, James had felt too weak to even carry a watch. After 18 months of an active program largely orchestrated by his wife, however, James built up enough strength to once again engage in an active, aggressive ministry.  During the following years, he did some of the best work of his life.

Take-away Point: If you have had a stroke, get a positive attitude and attempt to reach a goal that seems, at first, unreachable. Then persistently and diligently attempt to reach that goal.

(1) Glenn V. Ostir, Ivonne-Marie Berges, Margaret E. Ottenbacher, Angela Clow, and Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, Associations Between Positive Emotion and Recovery of Functional Status Following Stroke Psychosom Med 70: 404-409.

(2) Arthur L. White. Ellen G. White, vol. 2, The Progressive Years. Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1986, pp. 185-189

Topics: Health News