A recent medical breakthrough for patients with paralysis involves electrical stimulation therapy. This can help the brain regain some control over a hand paralyzed because of a stroke. A new clinical test has found that the brain can be rewired with the help of electrical therapy.
Jayme Knutson works as an assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland. He explains how the therapy involved patients using their good hand to help the brain use the paralyzed hand again.
Knutson recalls the patient wearing a sensor glove on the functional hand. The glove then transmits signals to electric stimulators which attach to the paralyzed hand. This sends a jolt to muscles in the paralyzed hand to mimic the movement of the functional hand.
During therapy, patients force themselves to open both hands simultaneously, with electrical impulses forcing the paralyzed hand to mirror the functioning hand.
Knutson believes they achieved this by training the brain. The brain takes control over the paralyzed hands gradually. It becomes more and more active until it opens the hand.
This kind of electrical stimulation had been used before in therapy. But before, there was no brain signal involved in the process. Now, scientists combined electrical impulses with brain training on the part of the patient and achieved a step further from previous therapies.
Knutson’s team tested the new findings during a clinical trial with 80 stroke patients who survived.
The trial lasted for 12 weeks. The patients were put into two groups: one that received regular therapy and the other group received the novel experimental therapy with electric impulses and brain training.
Both groups used an electrical stimulator at home, as well as receiving hospital therapy.
In the end, patients who went through the new therapy gained more control over their hands than those in the traditional treatment group.
The best results were obtained by people who got the new therapy as quick as possible following the stroke, in less than two years – to be exact. This proved that the earlier you start therapy, the quicker the recovery takes place in the brain.
If patients don’t start therapy soon after the stroke, the brain learns a bad habit of not moving the paralyzed hand and it becomes difficult to reverse it, as the months go by.
The treatments are not ready to be mass marketed. For now, scientists are still experimenting with the therapy.
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