Understandings stroke in rural Malaysia: ethnographic insights

Kwong Hsia Yap, Narelle Warren, Pascale Allotey, Daniel D. Reidpath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Stroke is a public health concern in Malaysia but local beliefs and lay understandings of stroke have not been examined before. Explanatory models provide a way for people to make sense of their illness and influence health seeking behaviors, in a locally relevant way. Methods: Drawing on ethnographic research from rural Malaysia, this descriptive article explores ethnic Malaysian-Chinese stroke survivors’ lay understandings of stroke. Eighteen community-dwelling stroke survivors aged 50–83 took part in the study. Results: Causation of stroke was derived from cultural, biomedical and social sources. Participants also drew simultaneously from both biomedical and traditional explanations of stroke to develop their own understanding of etiology. Similarities with biomedical causation and other studies from different cultures were found. Participants’ typically focused on the more immediate effects of stroke and often do not attribute causation and association with their comorbid conditions which are also risk factors of stroke. Conclusion: Lack of knowledge about stroke and its symptoms was evident in participants’ account. Findings emphasize the importance of knowledge based health interventions, especially in health education strategies for stroke survivors to reduce delays to diagnosis and potentially improve health outcomes post-stroke.Implications for rehabilitation Stroke survivors often form explanatory models of stroke that draw from both biomedical and traditional explanations of stroke. Understanding how people derive lay understandings of stroke can contribute towards developing the goals and activities that facilitate recovery and rehabilitation in similar settings. Health practitioners in the community should strengthen communication regarding the identification, etiology and risk factors of stroke with stroke survivors and their carers to improve compliance to medication, exercise and diet for better recovery. Sustained health education which is culturally relevant is recommended. Communication should also include non-physical impact of stroke (such as cognitive deficits and emotional difficulties) as the stroke survivors were unlikely to relate such symptoms to stroke.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-353
Number of pages9
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • ethnography
  • explanatory models
  • lay models
  • older adults
  • Stroke

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