For people who’ve had a stroke, a treatment that involves applying an electric current to the brain may help boost recovery of their mobility, a small clinical trial found.
Stroke is the most common cause of severe, long-term disability. Rehabilitation training, which helps patients re-learn how to use their bodies, can help some patients recover their ability to move. But it is often costly and time-consuming.
The new study looked at 24 patients; each had experienced a stroke that affected his or her ability move a hand and arm. Half of the participants were picked, at random, to receive nine days of rehab paired with a brain-stimulation technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This method uses electrodes placed on the scalp to deliver constant, low electrical currents to specific areas of the brain. The other patients received a sham control treatment; they were fitted with electrodes but did not receive tDCS.
Compared to the control group, patients who received brain stimulation and rehab were better able to use their hands and arms for movements such as lifting, reaching and grasping objects, the researchers found.
“It was hard work for the patients. They had to come into the lab every day for two weeks,” study co-lead researcher Heidi Johansen-Berg, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford in England, told Live Science.
But the findings showed that “we can speed up stroke rehab with brain stimulation,” Johansen-Berg said. “If we could routinely add brain stimulation to rehabilitation, this could help ensure that each patient reaches their true potential for recovery.”
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