An international study led by The University of Queensland has found that low-current electrical stimulation therapy could prove beneficial for stroke patients who are experiencing problems with language and communication. It’s hoped that this could be a breakthrough for those people suffering from aphasia, which affects the ability to read and write, speak and understand what other people say. The treatment is non-invasive and painless, being delivered to the brain via electrodes on the scalp.
Researchers from the Clinical Research Centre at The University of Queensland and the Department of Neurology at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin worked together to see how transcranial direct current stimulation would affect stroke patients exhibiting symptoms of aphasia. They did this by comparing the language ability and communication skills of two groups of patients with post-stroke aphasia. One of the groups was given language therapy combined with the electrical therapy, while the other group just received language therapy. Their findings showed that the electrical therapy gave significant and long-lasting benefits for those people with chronic aphasia. Although this kind of therapy is already used for stroke patients, until now there has been no evidence that it has long-term benefits for aphasia sufferers.
The team also found a way to make the treatment easier and less expensive, by targeting just the motor cortex area of the brain. This part of the brain acts as a bridge to reach the undamaged parts of the language cortex which, when stimulated by the electrical therapy , also stimulates the undamaged language regions. Currently, doctors use scans to identify the areas of the brain that need treatment, which prove very costly.
This new approach means that it may be possible to help a significant number of patients with post-stroke aphasia to further improve their language, long after they’ve had their stroke. Furthermore, it means that doctors will no longer have to undertake individual scans of patients to determine which parts of the brain were affected by the stroke, thus reducing the cost and feasibility of future treatments.
This study was published in the online Journal Brain on February 16th 2016.
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