Applied Behavior Analysis in the Treatment of Post-Stroke Patients

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for post-stroke patients is not a treatment for the direct causes of manifested psychological issues, but it can offer significant relief from associated behavioral or mood disorders. Impairment and the long-term consequences of a stroke largely depend on the severity of the individual case. Some patients make a complete recovery from the incident through rehabilitation, while others require constant care and assistance with taking care of basic life functions. Typically, treatments like ABA are applied in conjunction with other types of medical and psychological therapy to provide a comprehensive patient care program.

Related resource: 40 Best Online ABA Graduate Certificate Online Programs

Importance of Post-Stroke Therapy

Strokes are among the most prevalent potentially-fatal conditions in the United States with estimates of around 700,000 incidents per year nationally. The immediate damage caused by the attack can leave the victim crippled, partially blind or otherwise impaired. Even minor incidents can result in loss of muscle control and motor function, which can reduce the quality of life and could have a profound negative impact on the individual’s career or recreational activities.

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While strokes are the direct cause of death for hundreds of thousands of people each year, most of the victims actually survive the incident and go on to pursue long-term rehabilitation. With a constant supply of new patients to educate and treat, there is a rising demand for effective treatments and recovery strategies for post-stroke symptoms. There are still many aspects of strokes and subsequent treatment that are uncertain in the scientific community, but current advancements continue to show promise for patients who want to improve their long-term quality of life.

Associated Mood and Psychological Disorders

Strokes can leave psychological scars on victims in the form of actual brain damage or as a result of lifestyle changes following the incident. It’s natural for patients to feel uneasy or emotional in the weeks following a traumatic experience. Unfortunately, these mood and personality changes can last much longer without the proper treatment and support program. In fact, research has shown that up to two-thirds of stroke survivors deal with clinical depression as a direct or secondary consequence of their condition, according to the American Stroke Association.

Clinical depression manifests through numerous behavioral changes, which may or may not be visible to the patient or their family. The disorder is characterized by persistent sadness or anxiety, as well as a generally pessimistic attitude during daily life. Friends and family members of the patient may notice that they have lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, are losing weight or are more irritable than usual. Other types of disorders, like pseudo-bulbar affect (PBA) and language impairments, can also arise independently or alongside depression.

Individual Diagnosis and Assessment

Managing psychological health often takes the form of a personalized program, and this is particularly true for post-stroke patients. The impact of a stroke is influenced by many different factors, including the time it took to seek treatment, the location of the trauma within the brain and general health of the patient. The psychological health of the patient can also play a big role in the recovery process, since personal motivation and a receptive attitude are both critical to success.

The specific nature of post-stroke symptoms requires tailored therapy, which means doctors and psychologists must conduct a comprehensive assessment. Many patients work with a team of specialists, which can include dieticians, physicians, counselors and ABA practitioners, during their recovery. ABA practitioners usually conduct a functional behavior analysis (FBA) as part of their assessment to specifically define the exact mood or social disorders that need to be addressed. Assessments continue through the course of therapy to ensure patients are making steady progress.

Implementing ABA Techniques

Behavior analysis has become a staple technique in modern psychology, with therapeutic applications for all kinds of issues stemming from diagnosed conditions. Following a complete functional assessment of a patient, ABA practitioners must design a program and session structure to adequately address the patient’s difficulties. This program is usually outlined in a formal behavioral intervention plan (BIP) that describes the psychologists view on the source and severity of the presented issues. Psychologists must apply their knowledge and experience to determine if an individual’s issues stems from physical damage or a secondary disorder.

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Psychologists conducting ABA may adopt different approaches over the course of therapy sessions, but all of these activities prioritize awareness and modification of thought patterns. For example, a patient who has trouble using one arm following a stroke may be restrained in a way that forces them to use it to perform simple tasks. ABA therapies often guide patients towards confrontation with negative triggers and overcoming through repetition. Behavior analysts utilize a mixture of basic and complex techniques in their treatments, including positive reinforcement and family counseling.

Practicing ABA for Stroke Victims

Many licensed psychologists who practice ABA work with post-stroke patients during their career and some even choose to specialize in this area. Working directly with individuals to help them regain control over their life can be incredibly satisfying, although the job also presents plenty of challenges. Psychologists must be both empathetic and objective when providing treatment, so they need to know how to set priorities and manage sources of stress in their occupation.

Psychologists or students who are interested in providing ABA or other cognitive therapies to patients usually need a master’s degree before they can enter the field. After completing an applicable degree, they also need to successfully apply for certification through their state licensing board. Almost all professionals who deal directly with patients are also expected to maintain their license and participate in continuing education or professional development during their career.

Strokes are a serious public health concern that can have devastating consequences for victims and their families. They are difficult to predict or prevent, but the symptoms that follow can be managed with proper intervention and therapy. Applied behavior analysis treatment for post-stroke patients is one of the most effective tools currently available to psychologists working with individuals with recognized behavior, mood or emotional disorders.

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