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Striking strokes with electrical brain stimulation

Striking strokes with electrical brain stimulation
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Researchers say electrical brain stimulation has been shown to improve the recovery of stroke patients.

Treatments to improve function very early after stroke are massively growing.

A study carried out at the University of Oxford is said to be a first step in finding treatments that can help patients living with the debilitating long-term effects of strokes.

Scientists at Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences have been studying how using electrical stimulation can improve the function of recovering stroke patients who had a gap of at least six months since their attacks.

Charlotte Stagg, associate professor, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford: “What we think it (electrical stimulation) does is just allow the brain cells to fire just a little bit more. So if you imagine, when your brain is doing something like moving your hand the cells in your brain are firing all the time and communicating with each other. It’s that pattern of communication that allows us to learn a new skill. And what we think stimulation does is just increase the rate at which those cells are firing, and so, speed up the learning of that new skill. “

The study volunteers, split in two groups, had all had a stroke affect their ability to move their hands and arms.

Both groups were given nine days of intensive physiotherapy, but only half were given electrical stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS),
chosen for its ability to increase motor skill function and learning in healthy people.

The aim was to see if those with full treatment improved more than patients who had not had stimulation. The secondary group were fitted with electrodes, but did not receive electrical stimulation.

After the treatment, at specified times, the patients received follow-up assessments of their ability to move; these were compared with assessments which had been done before the treatments.

According to the scientists, patients who had received real electrical stimulation improved better than those patients who had been given false therapy.

Charlotte Stagg: “Treatments to improve function very early after stroke are massively growing. Actually options for people who are a bit further away from their strokes, at least six months after their stroke, are very few and far between and this really is the first evidence we have, albeit in a very small group of patients, of something that might genuinely help at that kind of time scale.”

The study comes as new figures from the World Health Organisation
show strokes kill 2.5 million globally each year, and are a major cause of disability.