A Stroke can be a devastating event that permanently changes a person’s ability to function. It can result in minor debilitation, such as muscle weakness, or a more serious disability, such as the inability to speak.
The physical effects of a stroke depend on the type of stroke, the stage at which it’s diagnosed and treated, and the general health of the person experiencing the stroke.
In general, full stroke recovery can take as little as a couple of week to as long as many years. The amount of time that it takes for a patient to recover depends on much time it took before medical care was rendered as well as the extent of Brain damage that occurred.
University of Auckland researchers, partially funded by the Neurological Foundation, have shown for the first time that combining brain Stimulation with rehabilitation exercises can help people recover arm and hand function several months after stroke.
The researchers have also shown for the first time that Combining Brain Stimulation with simple rehabilitation exercises can help people recover arm and hand function several months after a stroke.
"This research shows it is possible to 'prime' the brain to be more receptive to rehabilitation exercises, allowing it to re-learn how to control fine movement," says Associate Professor Winston Byblow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science who led the research along with PhD student and physiotherapist Suzanne Ackerley.
The latest study, published in the journal Stroke, is part of an ongoing research programme led by Dr Byblow and Dr Cathy Stinear in the Department of Medicine, whose work has already seen a new arm rehabilitation device being trialled in selected rehabilitation centres in New Zealand. While the researchers have focused on the Upper Limb, the new combination of brain stimulation with rehabilitation may also prove effective for other parts of the body.
The current study involved ten people with persistent impairment of the upper limb at least six months after a stroke. The researchers delivered bursts of magnetic stimulation across the skull to parts of the brain that control upper limb movement. Since the stimulation was painless, participants were unable to tell the difference between real or placebo treatments given on successive weeks.
The stimulation or placebo was given just before participants began practising a standard rehabilitation exercise that involves gripping and lifting an object with the index finger and thumb - a task that requires manual dexterity as well as coordination of muscles along the entire arm. After magnetic stimulation, participants showed substantial improvements in the task they had practised, more efficiently applying force with their weak hand. After placebo stimulation, their performance worsened due to fatigue.
Mirror therapy is a form of motor imagery in which a mirror is used to convey visual stimuli to the brain through observation of one’s unaffected body part as it carries out a set of movements. The underlying principle is that movement of the affected limb can be stimulated via visual cues originating from the opposite side of the body. Hence, it is thought that this form of therapy can prove useful in patients who have lost movement of an arm or leg including those who have had a stroke.