Electrical brain stimulation, in addition to rehabilitation, may help stroke patients recover their motor skill functions. A recent study showed that patients with the electrical treatment performed better on a range of tasks than those taking part in the usual rehabilitation.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was the painless treatment used, which uses electrical currents to stimulate parts of the brain. The study from Oxford University investigated this method and the possible benefits it could bring to improve rehabilitation results.
“This showed that the patients who had received tDCS were better able to use their hands and arms for movements such as lifting, reaching and grasping objects,” said Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg, from Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences.
For the study, 24 people whose hand and arm functions had been affected by a stroke were evaluated. Researchers split them into two groups, one received nine days of motor training plus tDCS, while the other received also nine days of motor treatment but placebo tDCS, as reported by Medical Daily.
The placebo effect was conducted using fake electrodes unable to actually deliver any current. This method was necessary to rule out any possible psychological boost from receiving extra treatment.
Motor skills were measured before, during and after the training to see how much each group has improved and whether the tDCS was actually generating any difference among the tests.
Three months after, the group that had received tDCS showed greater improvements in all areas measured compared to those in the control group. The tDCS group had better use of their hands and arms for movements such as lifting, reaching and grasping objects, the team said.
Brain scans also indicated that the tDCS group had more activity in the brain areas relevant to motor skill than the others who do not receive the electrical stimulation.
Bigger trials needed for conclusive results
According to Jane Burridge, professor of restorative neuroscience at the University of Southampton, who was not involved with the study, a bigger trial is needed to be certain of the results. The overall view when all the data is put together, from many studies, is that there is no clear benefit, she added.
Authors from the study agreed with Burridge. The new research has its limitations, admitted Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg. “One thing it does not allow us to do at all is get at the question of variability,” she said.
The treatment is not expected to work for everybody, there will be some people it will work well for and some people who it will not, and that is something the study did not show due to the small number of subjects, added Johansen-Berg.
Source: The Guardian