Every year, as many as 180,000 people suffer permanent physical disabilities as a result of stroke, like an arm which goes limp. The traditional thinking has been that if the patient was going to recover at all, any progress would come in that first year of rehab after the stroke. But, now researchers at the University of Florida are studying new therapies that could help patients with long term disabilities regain some movement.
"What we tried to test in this study was activate the wrist and fingers of the impaired limb and as soon as it reaches a target level, turn on electrical stimulation. At the same time, complete an action on the unimpaired limb. And those two protocols together, to see if those two protocols are better than one separately," says James Cauraugh, Ph.D. of the University of Florida.
The first procedure is called Electromyogram or EMG Stimulation Therapy. A microprocessor monitors the muscle activity in the arm and gives it a little boost to complete the hand motion. The other technique is called bilateral training which is a therapy where the unimpaired arm helps the impaired arm by mimicking its movement. Researchers are testing both therapies by having subjects pick up one-inch cubes from one side of a box and place them over a barrier to the other side before and after each session and they've found that the combination of electrical stimulation and bilateral training are more effective together in helping patients regain some movement, regardless of how long ago the stroke did its damage. So that is encouraging.