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 of BATRAC. 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 www.stroke.org.
SOURCE National Stroke Association