ENGLEWOOD, Colo., Oct. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Millions of stroke or brain attack survivors face daunting physical rehabilitation challenges. Many plateau in their recovery within three months after their stroke. But new research published in the October 20, 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows more than a year after stroke, some patients are getting back additional use of their arms. The Bilateral Arm Training with Rhythmic Auditory Cueing (BATRAC) study demonstrates stroke therapy patients who work both arms simultaneously may gain greater use of the arm paralyzed by stroke. The therapy appears to re-program brain neuromuscular pathways by employing rhythmic reaching and retrieving actions in beat with a metronome. Previously, most types of therapy have focused on either the impacted or the healthy arm, but not on both arms. The study is continuing to accept patients. During therapy researchers use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify areas of the brain involved in producing arm activity. In some cases, the research shows the brain increasing the connecting neuromuscular pathways in the stroke-impacted area of the brain. In other patients new pathways are created in areas unaffected by the stroke. The randomized controlled study includes 21 stroke survivors who experienced stroke a median of 50 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. Nearly four years ago Allen Wright had a stroke. The 54 year-old African American lost the use of his entire right side. While he had regained the ability to walk and talk, he still had limited use of his right arm. Since starting therapy at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he can now move this arm and perform new tasks. 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 are needed to determine the long-range impact of BATRAC. Based in Englewood, Colo. National Stroke Association devotes 100 percent of its efforts and resources to stroke. For more information call 1-800-STROKES or visit www.stroke.org. For interviews about this study contact Diane Mulligan-Fairfield at 720-273-0927.
SOURCE National Stroke Association