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Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Helpful in Repairing Speech and Language for Stroke Survivors

Update Date: Jun 27, 2013 04:00 PM EDT

In a small study, researchers discovered that the use of a non-invasive brain stimulation method has the potential of repairing speech and language functions for stroke survivors. Strokes occur when there is a blockage that prevents blood from reaching the brain. According to the researchers of the study, nearly 20 to 30 percent of stroke survivors have aphasia, which is a disorder associated with impaired speech and language functions. People who develop aphasia have difficulty understanding language in terms of reading, writing and speaking because the stroke most likely affect the region of the brain related to speech and language. In order to help survivors regain some function, researchers have studied the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulus (TMS).

"For decades, skilled speech and language therapy has been the only therapeutic option for stroke survivors with aphasia," said Alexander Thiel, M.D., study lead author and associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. "We are entering exciting times where we might be able in the near future to combine speech and language therapy with non-invasive brain stimulation earlier in the recovery. This could result in earlier and more efficient aphasia recovery and also have an economic impact."

The researchers recruited 24 stroke survivors from a rehabilitation hospital, Rehanova and Max-Planck-Institute for neurological research in Cologne, Germany. 13 of the patients underwent TMS, which is a magnetic coil that stimulates the brain when placed over the motor cortex. It uses low intensity stimulation and promotes muscle contractions with electrical currents. The remaining 11 of them were given a placebo coil that was placed over the top of the head as well. The placebo used the same level of intensity but did not actually have any electrical currents. The participants underwent either therapy for 15 minutes, followed up by 45 minutes of language and speech therapy for 10 days. The researchers found that the patients using TMS had three times greater speech and language improvement in comparison to the placebo group.

"TMS had the biggest impact on improvement in anomia, the inability to name objects, which is one of the most debilitating aphasia symptoms," Thiel said, according to a press release. "We believe brain stimulation should be most effective early, within about five weeks after stroke, because genes controlling the recovery process are active during this time window."

Since the study was very small, the effects of TMS for stroke survivors are still unclear. More research is being done on a larger group of survivors to study whether or not this technique could be a viable one for stroke survivors. The study was published in Stroke

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