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Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(2):357-361

Over the past few years the impact of social relations and support on general well-being, illness course and rehabilitation has been extensively studied. Positive social support can have a significant impact on the physical and psychosocial well-being of patients with stroke. Evidence suggests that family members, particularly spouses, provide important social support. This family support may have an impact on rehabilitation in patients with stroke. Tsouna-Hadjis and colleagues evaluated the role of family social support in three stroke rehabilitation variables, functional status, depression and social status, during a six-month recovery period after an acute stroke.

Patients who had a first stroke were studied in a prospective fashion. Functional status, depression and social status were assessed at one, three and six months after the stroke. A family support scale that included compliance and instrumental and emotional support was performed in the first month after the stroke. The result of the family support scale was then compared to the rehabilitation variables.

A higher level of family support, as measured by the family support scale, resulted in better scores on all three rehabilitation variables. Patients who had a moderate or severe stroke and higher levels of family support obtained a significantly improved functional status after six months compared with those who had less family support.

The authors conclude that family support has a significant positive impact on progressive improvement of functional status in patients with a first stroke. This was particularly true in severely impaired patients. In the rehabilitation of stroke patients, an assessment of family function can help identify families who may not provide adequate support, and interventions aimed at improving this support can be initiated.

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