Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Use what you've got to get what you need.

If you've had a stroke, your spinal cord still works fine. The spinal cord takes over some aspects of movement. The first step in this process of the spinal cord taking over is spasticity. The brain can't move you, so spasticity, generated in the spinal cord, takes over. And as much as we hate spasticity, things could be worse. Spasticity is better than nothing. "Nothing" in this case would be a completely flaccid affected ("bad") side. And being flaccid is worse than being spastic. Trust me on this.

But if we go a step beyond spasticity towards recovery there is an intermediate step. This intermediate step is known as synergy. The spinal cord basically allows for basic movements. The brain is not working, the spinal cord takes over, and the spinal cord allows very basic movements.

The synergies, although often disparaged by clinicians, are brilliant. In the upper extremity, synergy allows for the most important movement you can imagine: 
Feeding. It looks like this...


In the lower extremity the flexor synergy looks very much like a stepping pattern.

Clinicians have, for 40 or 50 years or so, said that synergies are bad. I disagree. Synergies can be used in a way that replicates good coordinated movement. Synergies give you the ability to at least attempt to replicate a normal movement. Enough attempts and the brain rewires and the synergies are discarded.

Watch this video. This stroke survivor (Brian Redd) is on the right track... use what you have to get more. 

(At 2:35 he provides a stellar description of the flexor and extensor synergies of the leg).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Predicting hand recovery by infarct size -- not.

Interesting work here by my colleague Stephen J. Page.

It seems like in "no-brainer." The more brain destroyed by the stroke, the greater the disability. Right? Except that when it comes to arm and hand movement, that may not be true.

"Historically, lesion size been thought to influence recovery, but we didn't find that to be the case when looking at regaining arm and hand movement," Steve put it.

There is no way to stare at your brain scan and A.) know what the deficit is gonna be B.) know how profound any deficit will be C.) predict recovery. 

(Find the published article here)

One other note: I've always disliked the term "massive stroke." Most doctors, and therefore survivors, claim that any stroke is a massive stroke. I've heard the claim that the word massive means "likely fatal." But if that is true then it has nothing to do with the mass (size) of the infarct. Thus, the word massive is meaningless. It is a superlative to add when the word "stroke" is somehow not enough.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Neuroaid: Scam

So. It turns out that in the largest clinical trial ever of the drug, neuroaid was  "statistically no better than placebo in improving outcomes." Who'da thunk? Oh yeah, we did!

So how do you think neuroaide spun it? Not real well. "Researchers found NeuroAiD, a stroke treatment based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, increases the odds of achieving a better functional outcome." "We are totally full of crap," they did not add.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Use what you love to recover what you love

I've said this before, but it bears repeating:

Recover so you can do what you love and use what you love to recover.

This is the hidden secret of recovery. It’s hidden because it has nothing to do with rehab or rehab science or physiatry or even neurology. It has to do with neuroscience; the neuroscience of the human brain

Here's the rule: Your brain will rewire (not just for stroke but for anything you learn) if you care about what you are rewiring for. Rewiring= learning. In neuroscience learning = "Changing the structure and/or function of neurons"= "brain rewiring."

But unless you care about what you learning you won't learn it.

Take math. How many adults have used an algebraic equation in the last year? Probably about 2%. And 95% of that 2% used algebra because they had to take an algebra course to graduate. Don't get me wrong, math is important. But the math most of us see as important can be done on a dollar stroke calculator. But algebra? You never really learned it because it has no importance to your everyday life. Now consider something like texting or using a new cell phone. We learn it in a matter of days because it’s important.

The same is true for stroke recovery. Many of the "ADLs"  (activities of daily living) that are used to rehab people after stroke are dry and boring. Things like dressing, grooming, bathing etc. are all necessary, but they're not very interesting to the brain.

Here's my suggestion: as much as possible, focus on things that you really care about. If it's important to you it will be important to your brain. The more pertinent is to you, the more brain rewiring can flower.

The following video is a good example of this. It's unusual example because the guy uses what he loves to "stay in the game," not rehab in the traditional sense. Have a look at the video. His right arm is still not working. But his love of music is.

The telling shot is approximately 50 seconds in. That, my friends, is "dense hemiparesis."

 Click the photo for the full story

This entry is dedicated to Mike Chambers 

Thanks for Todd Jasko for the idea!

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