African-Americans Have Increased Risk of Stroke: Cortical Stimulation Giving Survivors Suffering from Hand and Arm Disabilities Hope

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According to the National Stroke Association, African–Americans are almost twice as likely to suffer from a stroke than Caucasians. Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, with about 700,000 strokes occurring each year. Of these occurrences, up to 85 percent of stroke patients experience some degree of impairment in arm and hand mobility and function. These disabilities make many physical tasks such as tying shoes, cutting food, dialing the phone, driving, working or caring for children or grandchildren extremely difficult. The inability to complete simple tasks undermines a patient’s independence and can lead to frustration on a daily basis.

Physical and occupational therapy is the most frequently prescribed therapy for stroke survivors; however, this therapy is most often offered for only a brief period after the initial stroke and is rarely continued long–term due to the misconception that brain function is beyond repair. Much of this initial rehabilitation therapy is focused on teaching the stroke survivor how to live with or compensate for the physical limitations caused by stroke, versus attempting to regain function. The overall emotional impact of stroke–related disabilities for patients can be tremendous. Because stroke symptoms are often extremely debilitating and impede the lives of patients and their families and friends, regaining the ability to perform simple tasks and become self sufficient once again can drastically improve overall patient well–being.

The good news is that clinical evidence now suggests that the brain has the potential to undergo repair and recovery many months after an injury such as a stroke. This natural repair process is call neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to compensate for injury by reorganizing so that an uninjured part of the brain can take over the function of the injured portion. To help promote neuroplasticity over the long–term, researchers are currently studying a procedure that could pick up where nature leaves off, potentially enabling patients to gain function even after the point where they would normally experience a plateau.

This new procedure is a Cortical Stimulation System–an investigational device that is in clinical trials for several indications including stroke motor recovery, aphasia, tinnitus and depression. Cortical stimulation is the process of stimulating the cerebral cortex, or the outermost layer of the brain. It is believed that this stimulation promotes the strengthening of neural connections within the brain to compensate for connections that have been damaged by a stroke, such as the connections that enable motor function. A 21–center nationwide stroke study, called EVEREST, is currently building on these positive results.

Dr. Randall Benson is the Assistant Professor of Neurology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan

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