Background and Purpose: Physical inactivity after stroke stymies motor recovery, perpetuates further deconditioning, and contributes to a high long-term risk of cardiac events and recurrent stroke. This study used stakeholder input to develop a cardiac rehabilitation program specific to stroke.
Methods: An exploratory qualitative study was performed consisting of separate focus groups of stroke survivors, caregivers, rehabilitation clinicians, nurse practitioners along with individual physician interviews. Two experienced researchers in qualitative research methodology independently identified themes, patterns, and issues prioritized by participants.
Results: Four major themes emerged: safety, individualization of the cardiac rehabilitation program, return to function and living at highest potential, and need to maintain prolonged activity. Major components identified in developing the cardiac rehabilitation program included: Individualized stroke survivor education pertaining to fall prevention, safe aerobic exercise and learning how to live well after stroke (e.g., fitness, nutrition, chronic disease management, etc.); Exercise/stress testing prior to aerobic exercise; Determine when to begin cardiac rehabilitation post stroke (e.g., readiness, needs, resources, benefit, etc.), individualize approach and timing after holistic assessment; Education/training of cardiac rehabilitation professionals regarding best care practices for stroke survivors; Interdisciplinary approach to assure safety and continuum of care; Referral programs for IADLs, driving, sexual function, etc.; Motivational interviewing to overcome barriers with inclusion of peer mentoring/coaching; Discharge to cost effective community programs or a sustainable home program.
Conclusions: Addressing safety concerns along with the creation of an individualized cardiac rehabilitation program that enables stroke survivors to achieve and maintain their highest level of function long-term are fundamental components. Partnering with the major stakeholders and incorporating a coordinated interdisciplinary approach are crucial to the creation of a feasible and cost effective cardiac rehabilitation program for stroke survivors.