Learned Nonuse: How to Avoid Worsening Mobility Impairments after Stroke

Learned Nonuse: How to Avoid Worsening Mobility Impairments after Stroke

How to prevent learned nonuse in stroke patients

Have you ever heard the phrase “use it or lose it!” from your stroke rehabilitation specialist?

This popular phrase summarizes the condition of learned nonuse.

If you want to learn what learned nonuse is and how to prevent it from happening, read on!

How Learned Nonuse Worsens Mobility Impairments After Stroke

The phenomenon of ‘learned nonuse’ results from neglect of the affected limbs after stroke.

For example, sometimes stroke survivors become overly-dependent upon their non-affected hand to complete daily tasks.

Learned nonuse occurs when this neglect becomes severe and the brain completely forgets how to use the affected hand.

This worsens mobility in the affected hand and, when learned nonuse is severe, may even lead to paralysis.

The Vicious Cycle of Learned Nonuse

Learned nonuse doesn’t happen all at once though.

Perhaps the stroke survivor stops using her affected hand when she washes the dishes. Although she isn’t complete neglect, it begins to worsen impairments in the affected hand.

As the affected hand gets worse, the stroke survivor may continue to rely upon the “good” hand to complete more and more daily tasks.

Eventually, learned nonuse can result in total loss of mobility. So, how can you stop this pattern from happening?

How to Stop the Vicious Cycle

To prevent learned nonuse, stroke patients must strive to use their affected side – even if it’s just a little – every day.

As long as you use it, you won’t lose it!

Also, try to emphasize massed practice during your exercises. High repetition helps rewire the brain, which is how mobility is improved after stroke.

Reversing Severe Learned Nonuse with CIMT

When learned nonuse is severe, an aggressive stroke exercise regimen can help.

If you have the patience for it, a type of therapy called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) can really help.

CIMT involves intensive training of the affected side while restricting movement of the unaffected side.

This form of physical therapy is very aggressive though, so many stroke patients prefer to stick to massed practice.

Are You Moving Enough?

To prevent learned nonuse, you need to move your affected side just a little every day.

While minimal movement can help prevent learned nonuse, it doesn’t necessarily improve movement. It just prevents things from getting worse.

To improve movement after stroke, you need to perform high repetition of stroke exercises daily.

That’s the best method for recovering from stroke.