15 February 2020

Is sunny outlook the best medicine for stroke recovery?

Results of a new study suggest that optimistic people have a better disease outcome. Boosting morale may therefore be an ideal way to improve mental health and recovery after a stroke.

Optimism might be powerful medicine when recovering from a stroke, a new study suggests.

Stroke survivors who had positive outlooks showed lower levels of inflammation, reduced stroke severity and fewer physical impairments after three months compared to more pessimistic stroke survivors, the researchers found.

"Our results suggest that optimistic people have a better disease outcome, thus, boosting morale may be an ideal way to improve mental health and recovery after a stroke," study first author Yun-Ju Lai said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.

The research was funded by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the AHA. Lai is a postdoctoral fellow in the neurology department at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

New strategies

The study involved a group of 49 stroke survivors. Researchers analysed the connections between optimism, inflammation, stroke severity and physical disability. They found that as optimism increased, levels of inflammatory markers such as interlukin-6 and C-reactive protein decreased.

Getting a better understanding of the relationship between these elements could help develop new strategies for stroke recovery, Lai and her colleagues said.

Experiencing inflammation after a stroke can damage the brain and hinder recovery, they explained.

Preliminary research

The lower levels of inflammation associated with optimism translated into better patient outcomes, though the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link. Optimism levels were determined by a standard psychological test for measuring optimism.

The findings are to be presented next week at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference, in Los Angeles. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Patients and their families should know the importance of a positive environment that could benefit the patient," Lai said. "Mental health does affect recovery after a stroke."

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