In a groundbreaking study, two teams of researchers — one based at the University of South Australia in Adelaide and another in London — have shown that stroke recovery peaks at approximately two weeks after the stroke and then gradually diminishes with the passage of time.
The teams at Adelaide and London followed a total of 60 patients who had had a stroke. This follow-up lasted up to 12 months after the stroke.
Dr. Brenton Hordacre, based at the University of South Australia in Adelaide and also the lead author of the study, explained that this multisite study was intended to find out whether what was observed in animal studies could also be witnessed in human stroke survivors.
The team conducted scans on the brains of the victims using continuous transcranial brain stimulation (“cTBS”) to repeatedly activate different hemispheres of the victims’ motor cortex. The intention was to track brain plasticity in the victims. The laboratory in Adelaide focused on measuring plasticity within the damaged hemisphere of the motor cortex while the laboratory in London focused on the intact hemisphere of the motor cortex. This intact side is vital because it plays an important role in the recovery of the patient. Their assessments revealed that brain plasticity was at its highest 14 days post-stroke within the cortex that didn’t suffer any damage.
The lead author asserts that their findings confirm how important it is to initiate therapy immediately after someone has suffered a stroke.
The latest evidence shows that at the moment, a maximum of eight minutes is devoted each day to helping stroke victims recover function in their upper limbs in the first four weeks after a stroke. The research team believes that the treatment outcomes can be improved if more time is devoted to therapy within this window, as the chance of recovery decreases as time passes after the two-week mark.
Hordacre says more study and research needs to be done, despite the groundbreaking findings that they obtained in their study, which was published early this month. For example, he points out that attention needs to be directed towards identifying the specific therapy techniques that have the capacity to extend or even reopen the period when brain plasticity remains high after one has had a stroke. Such techniques have the potential to make full recovery a possibility, even in people who have suffered a severe stroke.
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