Research projects

Improving Inter-Personal Communication as a means of Reducing Post-Stroke Depression in Patients Living in the Community

Principal Researchers

Associate Professor David Andrewes and Margaret Turner

Institution

Psychology Department, University of Melbourne

Funding

$47,844

Award Type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year

2009

Project brief

Interpersonal communication is often impaired after a stroke.  In particular, many people who have experienced a stroke find it hard to recognise and understand emotions in themselves and others.  This can create difficulties for the person, as well as family members and carers.  Depression is also common.

This project aimed to:

  1. improve the ability of people who had experienced a stroke to recognise and understand emotions in themselves and others
  2. investigate how interpersonal skills related to emotional recognition of facial expression, tone of voice and body language
  3. improve social skills through training, with the proposal that improvement in this area may ameliorate depression.

This project had two arms.  The first established the state of emotional processing in 25 stroke patients compared with a control sample of rheumatic/orthopaedic patients.  The second involved giving 58 similar people training to increase their social skills.

Key findings

Two new tests were developed.  One tested a verbal versus non-verbal recognition of emotional faces.  The second used a video simulation of a series of interpersonal situations enacted by professional actors.

The first study found that brain damage to the right hemisphere significantly impaired emotional perception and emotional understanding.  It also found that depression impaired the ability to respond to an emotional situation in an appropriate manner.

The second study found that within a social skills training regime, the provision of feedback and home practice significantly improved interpersonal communication and social skills.  Success in this program was negatively correlated with executive skills and memory function.

Implications for policy, practice and further research

These findings demonstrate that it is possible to improve communication skills in people who have post-stroke depression, and a program could be incorporated into psychotherapy for this condition.

This research will encourage therapists to work on improving interpersonal relationships in people with post-stroke depression and this will enhance partner support and ultimately reduce rates of depression.