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Extended Physical Therapy Can Benefit Stroke Patients

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Stroke patients usually face months of rehabilitation after they are released from the hospital. After that, most patients are on their own. Doctors and therapists are finding that may not be what is best.

Stacking plastic cups is hard work for Frank Billings. A stroke three years ago affected his arm, leg, voice -- just about every inch of his right side.

"Even my hair doesn't grow the same way on the right side as it does on the left. It's amazing but it's true," he said.

Billings had to learn how to walk and even talk again. Like most stroke patients, his therapy ended after one year.

"The occupational therapist said she had done all she could do. That I had plateaued," Billings said.

Doctors and therapists are now challenging that trend.

Colleen Morreale, an occupational therapist at


, said she has seen improvement in patients even 10 years after a stroke.

"I'm a firm believer that we can't possibly know everything there is to know about the body," Morreale said.

She is working with Billings to strengthen his right arm and hand. After three weeks, there has already been improvement.

Morreale said each therapy program must be tailored to the patients needs. Of course, she said some people will respond better to therapy than others.

"A lot of it has to do with the patient's motivation level-- how much support they have at home," Morreale said.

Billings likes the changes he sees so far, and hopes this is only the beginning.

"It will give me a whole lot more independence," he said.

Right now, the biggest hurdle for patients is that some insurance companies cover additional therapy, while others do not.Some experts said once more research is done proving longterm therapy works and will cut down on medical bills, more insurance companies will cover it.

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