Magnets are good for a lot of things, but one of the possible applications unlocked by research can trump everything that came before. It seems that stroke patients who are combating paralysis in the affected limb can move it voluntarily after a magnet-based treatment.
People surviving a stroke usually have to cross several emotional and physical hurdles, one of the latter being the inability to move a limb. But a new discovery by researchers shows that a strong magnetic pulse can be sued to trigger inactive areas of the brain through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
These areas can be put to work operating the motionless arm on the patient. While this isn’t a cure at this point, it is still a way for people to regain some semblance of control. Longer-lasting stimulation could be employed to ‘teach’ the brain how to move the paralyzed part in a different way.
Right now, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the country, with about 130,000 Americans dying from it every year. During a stroke, blood flow to the brain gets cut off, and the brain cells are starved of oxygen. Most times this is caused by a clot in a blood vessel. While only 15 percent of strokes cause a hemorrhage, these lead to around 40 percent of stroke deaths, according to a CDC survey. But paralysis happens widely, in about 90 percent of stroke sufferers, causing the inability to move an arm or a leg.
Treatment for this includes the physical, occupational and speech therapy performed intensively, weekly. Research has shown that strength training on one side can strengthen the other side as well. But for some, no measure of exercise suffices to mobilize the weakened limb.
The study examined the effects of TMS on 30 stroke patients, half of whom had mild problems with arm movement, while the other half had sever impairment. These people were asked to reach for an object when they saw a ‘go’ signal; meanwhile the part of their brains called the dorsal premotor cortex was stimulated with magnetic pulses. This is the region that a stroke does not affect.
The findings showed that people with small damage in their brain areas can more easily tap into other areas to achieve limb movement. This is harder if the brain damage sustained is more extensive. Targeted stimulation may be a way to train an entirely different part of the brain to move the arm.