This is a plain English summary of an original research article. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and reviewer(s) at the time of publication.
This trial found that a three-month individualised occupational therapy programme did not significantly improve the daily functioning (dressing, using the toilet and overall mobility) of severely physically and cognitively impaired people living in residential care who had a stroke on average three years before.
About a quarter of stroke survivors in the UK cannot return home and need residential care. Occupational therapy is recommended immediately after a stroke for those likely to benefit.
As occupational therapy did not help this severely disabled group, alternative approaches are needed.
Why was this study needed?
Stroke is the third most common cause of disability worldwide. Around a quarter of stroke survivors in the UK require long-term stays in care homes. There is evidence, from systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials, that occupational therapy is effective for stroke survivors when delivered in their own home. However, a 2013 systematic review of occupational therapy in care homes found only one trial, including 118 people, and was therefore unable to draw firm conclusions. The NIHR funded this study to help the NHS and social care services decide whether providing occupational therapy for stroke survivors in care homes might be worthwhile.
What did this study do?
This was a randomised control trial carried out in 228 UK care homes. It included 1,042 residents who had previously suffered a stroke. The trial compared a three-month occupational therapy package with usual care. Most of the participants were severely or very severely physically disabled and had significant cognitive impairment. The average time between their stroke and starting the treatment was three years.
The tailored occupational therapy package involved occupational therapists working with residents to help them to maintain or improve their ability to carry out everyday tasks – such as dressing, using the toilet and overall mobility. In addition, care home staff were given training to raise awareness of stroke-related disabilities and how to manage them over the long term. Usual care was the standard care provided in care homes, either by nursing or non-nursing staff.
Potential bias was minimised by concealing treatment allocation from those assessing changes in disability, and by lessening the impact of the type of care home or its location.
What did it find?
- There was no difference in disability, mood, mobility or quality of life in those receiving occupational therapy compared with usual care at three, six or 12 month assessments. Changes in scores on these scales were not considered statistically or clinically significant.
- Adjusting for factors like residents’ age, type of care home, degree of disability and level of cognitive impairment did not alter the main results.
- There were no adverse events from the occupational therapy.
- Occupational therapy was not cost-effective compared with usual care, and involved care homes having to buy equipment.
What does current guidance say on this issue?
2013 NICE guideline on stroke rehabilitation recommends that occupational therapists are part of the core multidisciplinary team and that occupational therapy is offered immediately to stroke survivors likely to benefit. Occupational therapy may consist of either restorative therapy, such as encouraging the person to use their weaker arm more, or compensatory therapy, such as teaching the person to dress one-handed. The guideline does not include criteria detailing which patients are “likely to benefit” from occupational therapy.
What are the implications?
This trial shows that stroke survivors in care homes with severe disability and cognitive impairment do not benefit from occupational therapy given more than a year after stroke. The funds that might be used on this therapy might be better spent on other ways of improving well-being and, perhaps, ensuring that equipment and services are available in care homes for people sooner after their stroke.
Sackley, CM, Walker MF, Burton CR et al. An occupational therapy intervention for residents with stroke related disabilities in UK care homes (OTCH): cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2015;350:h468.
This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme (project number 08/14/30)
Fletcher-Smith JC, Walker MF, Cobley CS et al. Occupational therapy for care home residents with stroke. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;6:CD010116.
NICE. Stroke rehabilitation: Long-term rehabilitation after stroke. CG162. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2013.
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