Peter Thompson

Stroke Recovery – Teach the Brain Something New
Peter Thompson

Even able brains demonstrate neuroplasticity every day, and it is a key concept in recovery following a stroke. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new pathways and learn new skills, and sometimes relearn, in the case of stroke or head injury.

If you were to learn a musical instrument for example, you will begin slowly, sometimes clumsily, but with practice and determination, your brain recognizes the patterns and the skills become easier to perform.

Following a stroke, there are often a number of key skills to ensure independence that need to be relearned – walking, talking, feeding and dressing oneself for example. The prognosis for each patient is different, and no outcome is guaranteed – except one; if you do nothing new, you will achieve nothing new.

Peter Thompson’s wife Virginia (Ginny) had a stroke in June 2008 and required decompression surgery to save her life.

Ginny’s prognosis was grim – the couple was told she’d never walk again and told that with stroke, any function not regained in the first six months is gone forever.

Despite such a bleak outlook, Ginny was determined to walk into her 50th birthday party.  Eleven months after her stroke, she managed to do so, with the help of a cane and a very dedicated physiotherapy and recovery programme, which was funded by the Thompsons. Eighteen months after her stroke, she had regained enough function to come home, where she remained for 2 ½ years, before needing to go back into fulltime care.

Peter’s background is in design and engineering, and Ginny’s stroke has altered his professional course and he is now a champion of stroke recovery.

“We need a change in mindset,” says Peter. “We shouldn’t be calling it rehabilitation, the focus should be recovery – recovery of as much function as is possible.  “I have seen remarkable recoveries from individuals who refused to give up,” he says, “I met a woman who spent two years teaching herself to play an instrument after being paralysed by a stroke. There are a lot of factors at play, and recovery is a long-term project.

“The power of the individual cannot be underestimated. The desire to recover is undoubtedly a factor in the eventual outcome of a patient. We need to work out how to unlock that desire in each patient, given they are easily discouraged by the enormity of the task they face.”