Monday, May 21, 2012

Stroke Recovery. Its About Time.

Stroke survivors are given such a short time to recover. For everyone "motor learning" takes repeated attempts in order to rewire the brain. How much more effort must motor learning take in folks who have billions of neurons killed by their stroke? The numbers get very large. I've heard "2000 for a single joint" and " 140,00" "and "10,000" and "Tens of thousands" and" millions." But guess what? Every stroke is different. So the numbers for you and how you are trying to move are different than her and what she is trying to move. I think I've come up with the perfect number for everyone. This is based on my dozens of peer-reviewed coauthored studies, and clinical research at both the Kessler Institute and the U of Cincinnati. But the number is algorithmic and gets very complicated. Ready? Here's the number...

"A lot."

It is commonly and scientifically accepted that that it takes at least 10 years to become an expert in any field. We ask stroke survivors to relearn difficult tasks such as walking within a few months to a few years of their stroke. And all this difficult motor learning is done against a backdrop in which portions of the brain that is usually used for walking is deceased. And then there's all the other variables like other health issues, depression, lack of energy, natural aging and on and on.

Anyone who has children and has gone through boxes and boxes of Band-Aids and knows that motor learning is a challenge. Skinned knees and elbows attest to this. It takes years for children to learn how to walk. How much time do we give stroke survivors whose primary neuronal circuitry for walking has been taken off-line —6 months? Stroke survivors are best served through a combination of personal empowerment and guidance from therapists. No matter how ugly, no matter how synergistic, no matter how submerged in spasticity, each volitional movement should be encouraged. People with acquired brain injury will only drive their own neuroplastic rewiring through repeated volitional attempts, that “nip at the edges” of their ability. Therapists have traditionally focused more on quality of movement and functional relevance than on a confluence of gained active range of motion. No matter how incremental, increased active range of motion in all pivots and planes provides a template for any and all future movements.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Video games+Tennis balls+ Anger=Recovery

A great article in the British newspaper The Telegraph. The article is by a stroke survivor who recovered well after an ischemic (block) stroke. He's hit on some very core ideas. Here are the most important points (comments in red are mine):
  • "...nobody in the hospital was going to tell me how to get better ..."
  • "I had to get out of hospital and cure myself."
  • "...found that major strides had been made in America in treating stroke victims." (USA! USA! USA!)
  • "Research there showed that damaged neural pathways could be re-routed" (Taub! Taub! Taub!)
  • "The key was speed. After three or four weeks, the brain seemed to start a permanent shut-down on these pathways." Not true. But the guy is a "High Master" which I think is a principal. He can be forgiven.
  • "I decided to bounce a tennis ball 2,000 times a day off the kitchen floor, missed catches not counting." Obsessive repetitive practice. I love it.
  • "The first day it took four hours to reach the target." Ambitious repetitive practice.
  • "...wrote out the alphabet, one line per letter, for two hours a day." Brilliant, I think the British say.
  • "I vowed to (type) 10 pages a day, typing out my corrections on my latest book with one finger. The first 10 pages took three days." I love this guy.
  • "I decided to recite the poems of Andrew Marvell for two hours a day..." Fighting aphasia by using something meaningful. This guy may have missed his calling: neuroscience.
  • "I marched up and down the stripes on the lawn for two hours a day." Very Monty Python.
  • To reestablish I coordination he used "a computer game flying a virtual F15 jet - or, in my case, crashing it thousands of times on the runway before finally landing it - after 40 hours' "flying" time." I think this is great. The idea of doing something fun to recover. When else in the middle of somebody's career are they allowed to play 40 hours of any game?
  • "I came close to giving up the grind of rehab. But by choosing tasks like writing the alphabet or counting how many times I could walk down the lawn without crossing a stripe, I could monitor my own progress." Okay, two things: close to giving up. But not giving up. And second: being able to "monitor progress" is essential to recovery because if you don't monitor things closely how do you know if you are getting any better?
  • "The difference between success and failure was...a deep anger that I was not offered more help to start with" You know, even Gandhi was not against anger. He just said you should use it wisely because it's very powerful. I'd say using anger to recover from stroke is using anger wisely. 
    •  Gandhi on Anger  "I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world." 
Bravo High Master of stroke recovery!

Find the article here.

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