Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An exploration of lifestyle beliefs and lifestyle behaviour following stroke: findings from a focus group study of patients and family members

Maggie Lawrence1*, Susan Kerr1, Hazel Watson2, Gillian Paton3 and Graham Ellis4

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health/Institute for Applied Health Research, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, G4 0BA, Scotland, UK

2 School of Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, G4 0BA, Scotland, UK

3 NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, PA2 9PN, Scotland, UK

4 NHS Lanarkshire, Medicine for Elderly, Monklands Hospital, Airdrie, ML6 0JS, Scotland, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2010, 11:97  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-11-97

Published: 8 December 2010



Stroke is a major cause of disability and family disruption and carries a high risk of recurrence. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of recurrence include smoking, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity. Guidelines recommend that secondary prevention interventions, which include the active provision of lifestyle information, should be initiated in hospital, and continued by community-based healthcare professionals (HCPs) following discharge. However, stroke patients report receiving little/no lifestyle information.

There is a limited evidence-base to guide the development and delivery of effective secondary prevention lifestyle interventions in the stroke field. This study, which was underpinned by the Theory of Planned Behaviour, sought to explore the beliefs and perceptions of patients and family members regarding the provision of lifestyle information following stroke. We also explored the influence of beliefs and attitudes on behaviour. We believe that an understanding of these issues is required to inform the content and delivery of effective secondary prevention lifestyle interventions.


We used purposive sampling to recruit participants through voluntary sector organizations (29 patients, including 7 with aphasia; 20 family members). Using focus group methods, data were collected in four regions of Scotland (8 group discussions) and were analysed thematically.


Although many participants initially reported receiving no lifestyle information, further exploration revealed that most had received written information. However, it was often provided when people were not receptive, there was no verbal reinforcement, and family members were rarely involved, even when the patient had aphasia. Participants believed that information and advice regarding healthy lifestyle behaviour was often confusing and contradictory and that this influenced their behavioural intentions. Family members and peers exerted both positive and negative influences on behavioural patterns. The influence of HCPs was rarely mentioned. Participants' sense of control over lifestyle issues was influenced by the effects of stroke (e.g. depression, reduced mobility) and access to appropriate resources.


For secondary prevention interventions to be effective, HCPs must understand psychological processes and influences, and use appropriate behaviour change theories to inform their content and delivery. Primary care professionals have a key role to play in the delivery of lifestyle interventions.