In a fresh hope for those who have suffered a stroke, a new research has shown that magnetic stimulation of the nerve cells in the brain, can help speed the recovery.
Anyone who has had a friend or relative suffer a stroke knows what a shocking and debilitating affliction it can be. There are different types of stroke, but all essentially have the result of causing damage to the brain cells and blood circulation to the brain.
The study, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, explains the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a treatment that involves placing large electromagnetic coils against the scalp. It creates electrical currents that stimulate nerve cells.
Study author Giacomo Koch, MD, PhD, of the Santa Lucia Foundation in Rome, Italy said :
"The treatment is based on the theory that hemispatial neglect results when a stroke disrupts the balance between the two hemispheres of the brain.
A stroke on one side of the brain causes the other side to become overactive, and the circuits become overloaded."
The research so far has only involved 20 people, with a specific kind of stroke, known as hemispatial neglect. This is where the right side of the brain has been damaged and the person has little awareness on their left side. They may not even recognize the left side of a plate of food, or be able to see on their left side. (The brain works on opposite sides, so that generally speaking, the right side is responsible for the left side functions.)
10 patients were treated for two weeks, while the other 10 received a placebo treatment. Tests on those who did not receive the real treatment showed little improvement, while those who underwent the real magnetic stimulation had a 16% improvement at the end of the two weeks and a 22% improvement two weeks later. Dr. Koch also showed that over-activity in the damaged nerves of the brain had normalized in patients that had the real magnetic treatment.
Heidi M. Schambra, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center, who wrote an editorial on the study said :
"This study represents an important step forward in the effort to find ways to help people rehabilitate from hemispatial neglect after stroke ... Beyond its direct effect on people's visual-spatial abilities, hemispatial neglect also interferes with people's efforts to recover their cognitive abilities and movement."
It's not the first use of the power of magnetics as a therapy. It has shown success as an antidepressant, and there has been quite a fashion, especially amongst sportsmen, of wearing a small bracelet with a magnet, that is claimed to improve co-ordination and balance.
Other ideas include magnets in the bed to improve sleep, and even magnets in drinking water to enhance its qualities. Perhaps there is something to this "snakeoil" after all.
Written by Rupert Shepherd