Computers Help in Stroke Recovery

Computer Assisted Stroke Rehabilitation

Future Directions in Stroke

New directions in stroke care and stroke research are using the power of technology to help stroke survivors recover in ways that seemed impossible just a few years ago. 

Re-teaching the Brain

When it comes to stroke recovery and rehabilitation, we now know that the brain has the capacity to recover through a built-in process called neuroplasticity. This is the ability of healthy neurons in the brain to 'take over' some of the functions damaged by a stroke.

The problem is that, until now, we haven't had much control over neuroplasticity- and stroke survivors have had to watch and wait to see if any improvement happens.

So stroke researchers' challenge when it comes to neuroplasticity lies in learning how to harness and maximize this innate capability to help stroke survivors obtain optimal recovery after a stroke.

Finally, computers have been able to help in directing the brain to more effectively use neuroplasticity to recover.

Computers in Stroke Rehabilitation

An interesting research experiment from Japan describes the novel use of computer-guided stroke rehabilitation. The February 2014 Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine details a Japanese study designed to evaluate an innovative method of computer-assisted rehabilitation in a recovering stroke patient.

During the first phase of the study, the patient attempted to open his fingers while receiving electrical stimulation to his impaired hand.

Then, in the second phase, the patient attempted similar movements of his fingers while receiving the same method of electrical stimulation to his impaired hand. But this time, he received the electrical stimulation to his hand only when the corresponding motor area of his brain was activated by his own effort.

When the finger movements and electrical stimulation were carefully coordinated with activity of the corresponding motor brain regions, signs of improved brain function were detected in the brain and body.

Blood tests and neurological imaging studies confirmed that his brain function was significantly better in the second phase of computer stimulation than the first phase of stimulation. This exciting experiment shows that there may be promise in computer-assisted rehabilitation for some patients recovering from stroke. When electrical stimulation is timed with motor activation in the brain, the electrical stimulation appears to trigger brain activity, which may have huge implications in stroke recovery.

And another, more recent study from the University of California, Irvine evaluated 9 stroke patients who received  a similar method of brain-controlled electrical stimulation to help them improve their ability to walk after a stroke. The study results demonstrated that computer stimulation helped most of the patients improve their walking speed, leg strength, and coordination.

The electrical stimulation did not produce any side effects for any of the 9 patients.

Many aspects of stroke care and post stroke management have advanced in recent years. The improving prognosis after a stroke and the focus on using technology in rehabilitation during recovery can allow stroke survivors to gain more independence after a stroke than ever before.

Sources:

Brain-controlled functional electrical stimulation therapy for gait rehabilitation after stroke: a safety study, McCrimmon CM, King CE, Wang PT, Cramer SC, Nenadic Z, Do AH, Journal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation, July 2015

Mukaino M1, Ono T, Shindo K, Fujiwara T, Ota T, Kimura A, Liu M, Ushiba J., Efficacy of brain-computer interface-driven neuromuscular electrical stimulation for chronic paresis after stroke, Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine, March 2014

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