Brain Re-programming Therapy May Give New Hope to Disabled Stroke Survivors

Jun 25, 2004, 01:00 ET from National Stroke Association

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo., June 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Every year, millions of stroke
 or brain attack survivors face daunting physical rehabilitation challenges.
 It is generally accepted that most will plateau in their recovery three months
 after suffering a stroke.  But now researchers are finding a new therapy,
 bilateral arm training with rhythmic auditory cueing (BATRAC), that involves
 repetitive training of both arms acting as a unit in time with a metronome can
 improve arm function for some stroke survivors who had their stroke more than
 a year before.
     At the 5th International Stroke Society World Congress in Vancouver, B.C.,
 researchers today announced the BATRAC study results.  Stroke therapy patients
 who work both arms simultaneously in therapy may gain greater use of the arm
 paralyzed by stroke.  The dual arm therapy appears to actually re-program
 brain neuromuscular pathways.  The theory involves rhythmic reaching and
 retrieving actions with the healthy and the stroke-impacted arms in beat with
 a metronome.  Previously, most types of therapy have primarily focused on
 either the impacted or the healthy arm, but not on both arms.
     While researchers are conducting the therapy, they are also using
 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify areas of the brain
 involved in producing arm activity.  In some cases, researchers have found
 that the brain is increasing the connecting neuromuscular pathways in the
 stroke-impacted area of the brain.  In other patients new pathways are created
 in areas of the brain unaffected by the stroke.
     The randomized controlled study included 20 stroke survivors who had their
 stroke a median of 30 months prior to the study.  Motor function in the entire
 group was significantly improved.
     "In some patients, using fMRI, we are able to see new areas of the brain
 lighting up to compensate for the damaged portion of the brain.  We assume
 that these new areas are related to the increased function we see after BATRAC
 training.  Changes after standardized exercises focusing on the affected arm
 only are not so apparent in either the brain or arm function although some
 gain is still seen," said researcher Dr. Jill Whitall, Department of Physical
 Therapy & Rehabilitation Science, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
     Allen Wright had a stroke more than three and a half years ago.  The
 54-year-old African American man lost the use of his entire right side
 immediately after his stroke.  While he had regained the ability to walk and
 talk, he still had limited use of his right arm.  Since starting the therapy
 at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he can now move this arm
 more and perform tasks like washing his left side.
     Wright says, "I joined the study because I feel like there is help.  I
 exercise my right leg everyday and it got better.  Now I am exercising my
 right arm and I can touch the outside of my left arm. I am not going to let
 this stroke get me down."
     Additional studies need to be performed to determine the long-range impact
     There are more than four million stroke survivors in the United States.
 National Stroke Association (NSA) wants stroke survivors to ask their doctors
 about the latest in stroke therapy.  NSA's mission is to reduce the incidence
 and impact of stroke.  Based in Englewood, Colo., National Stroke Association
 is a leading, independent national nonprofit organization devoting 100 percent
 of its efforts and resources to stroke.  For more information contact NSA at
 1-800-STROKES (767-6537) or visit

SOURCE National Stroke Association