An Indiana University study that exposed older veterans with stroke to yoga produced “exciting” results as researchers explore whether this popular mind-body practice can help stroke victims cope with their increased risk for painful and even deadly falls, according to a press release.
The pilot study involved 19 men and one woman, with an average age of 66 years. For 8 weeks, they participated in a twice-weekly hour-long group yoga class taught by a yoga therapist who dramatically modified the poses to meet the veterans’ needs.
A range of balance items measured by the Berg Balance Scale and Fullerton Advance Balance Scale improved by 17% and 34% respectively by the end of the program. But equally exciting to lead researcher Arlene A. Schmid, rehabilitation research scientist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, was the measurable gain in confidence the study participants had in their balance.
“It also was interesting to see how much the men liked it,” Schmid, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, stated in the release.
Statistics concerning strokes and falls are grim, with studies showing that strokes can quadruple the risk of falling and greatly increase the risk of breaking a hip after a fall. An estimated 80% of people who have strokes will also have some degree of impaired balance.
The study participants performed poses initially while seated in chairs and then progressed to seated and standing poses. Eventually, they all performed poses on the floor, something Schmid considers significant because of a reluctance many older adults have to working on the floor.
“Everything was modified because we wanted them to be successful on day one,” Schmid stated. “Everyone could be successful at some level.”
A score of less than 46 on the Berg Balance Scale indicates a fall risk. Schmid said the study participants on average began the study with a score of 40 and then improved to 47, moving them past the fall risk threshold. The study participants also showed significant improvements in endurance based on a seated two-minute step test and a six-minute walk test.
Schmid said research into therapeutic uses for yoga is “really taking off,” particularly in mental health fields. Clinically, she has been watching a small trend of occupational therapists and physical therapists also becoming yoga therapists. The yoga performed in the study was modified to the extent that Schmid said it would be very difficult to find a comparable class offered publicly. Such a class should be taught by a yoga therapist who has had additional training in anatomy and physiology and how to work with people with disabilities. Schmid hopes to expand the study so she and her colleagues can explore whether such classes are effective on a larger scale.