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Brain-Training Device May Ease Stroke Paralysis

Preliminary study finds benefits long after attack

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Though it's an early look at evidence supporting the therapy, one expert who was not involved with the research said the results looked promising.

"Stroke is the largest cause of disability in the country," said Dr. Rafael Ortiz, director of neuro-endovascular surgery and stroke at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Fifty percent of stroke patients end up with severe disability, and that's out of 800,000 strokes that happen a year," he said. Better kinds of rehabilitation for stroke patients are desperately needed, he added.

"Using therapies like this, we can offer hope to patients, even six or twelve months after their stroke," he said.

The brain has two sides, or hemispheres. Researchers say that what seems to be happening is that the side of the brain that wasn't damaged by the stroke learns to take over many of the functions lost on the affected side.

And the more patients are able to recruit the unaffected side, the better their progress, Prabhakaran said.

Some, but not all, of the positive brain changes remained even a month after patients had finished therapy. Researchers think maintenance sessions may be necessary to help people keep their gains.

Patients with mild to moderate damage seem to get the most help from the device, he added. Patients with milder impairments were able to increase their speed on a task that required them to move pegs on a board. Patients with moderate damage were able to recover movement and strength.

The study is still in its early stages. Researchers said they won't know for sure how well it works or how useful it may be until they've tested it on more patients. Prabhakaran said he hoped to recruit 44 in total.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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