New Brain Stimulaion Technique May Help Stroke Survivors with Aphasia

Utah 2013 jbm  - 195 - Version 2Aphasia—difficulty speaking and remembering words or names—is one of the most vexing aftereffects of stroke and other types of brain damage. Aphasia can also affect the ability to listen, read, spell, and work with numbers.

After my stroke, I couldn’t remember my husband’s name or how to call 911.

Every sentence was a struggle: to remember names, to find words—ordinary words for ordinary objects like “car” or “bookshelf” or “school.”

Marilyn (my speech therapist) explained what had happened to my speech and memory for words. “Your inability to remember names or think of words is called aphasia,” she told me.

Excerpt from A Stroke of Bad Luck and the Potholed Road to Recovery

Today, twelve years after my stroke, I’ve recovered well. Most people I meet can’t tell I’ve had a stroke.  But though I live almost normally, I still have problems with aphasisa. Every day it’s something different. Yesterday, I met with a friend who is helping me with my website. As she talked and I took notes, I stopped. Looking up at her, feeling puzzled and embarrassed, I said, “I don’t remember how to to spell ‘health.'”

Now researchers are testing a new technique of non-invasive brain stimulation that may help stroke survivors recover more language function earlier in the recovery process. It’s called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and involves a coiled, magnetic device that’s pressed to the patient’s head.   The device delivers magnetic pulses that reach the brain.

I imagine looking like a martian woman at the beauty salon for a color weave!

A new study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal combined TMS brain stimulation with traditional speech and language therapy for stroke survivors. Patients who received both had an average thirty percent greater improvement over those who received traditional therapy alone.

“For decades, skilled speech and language therapy has been the only therapeutic option for stroke survivors with aphasia,” said Alexander Thiel, M.D., the study’s lead author.  “We are entering exciting times where we might be able in the near future to combine speech and language therapy with non-invasive brain stimulation earlier in the recovery. This could result in earlier and more efficient aphasia recovery and also have an economic impact.”

That’s welcome news for all of us who suffer aphasia.

Find more information about the study here.