Touching Lives - December 2003
Helping stroke patients to recover
Although most patients who survive a stroke will walk independently again, only a third will recover independent arm function. As you can imagine, losing the use of your hands leads to a considerable reduction in quality of life and dependence on others.
“Most research in this area has been done six to 12 months after the stroke,” says project coordinator Anand Pandyan. “A novel aspect of our project is that we will be attempting to try and prevent the development of complications in patients with more severe levels of disability — this group of patients need the maximum therapy available, so we’ll be starting treatment much earlier on. If you don’t move your arm after stroke, eventually the muscles waste and the joints stiffen, leading to what we call a ‘contracture’ or deformity.”
The project will investigate whether treatment with electrical stimulation can be used to prevent contractures and help the recovery of arm function after stroke.
Dr Pandyan explains, “We will pass a small electrical current into the patient’s arm via surface electrodes. Passing the current stimulates the muscles and helps the fingers to extend once again. ^We’re basically replacing the electrical signal that the brain would send to the arm to get movement for patients who can’t do it themselves^. The hope is that the brain will respond and ‘re-learn’ what to do.”
An extra benefit is that the electrical charge may work in the same way as a TENS machine to prevent pain. “Our team hopes that by demonstrating that this treatment can be a highly usable and accessible tool for therapists — with positive results for patients — that the NHS will then adopt the treatment for all stroke patients who might benefit.”