By Dr. Shawn VanWinkle
Every year in the United States 795,000 people will suffer from a stroke. For approximately 185,000 of these people, it will be their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th stroke. A stroke can occur when blood flow to the brain is cut off (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel that supplies brain tissue bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). Every day, millions of Americans who have survived a stroke suffer from a multitude of ailments. They will typically have paralysis and/or weakness on one side of the body. Some will even have pain in the hands and feet that gets worse with movement or temperature changes. It can be difficult for them to understand speech or make the right words when trying to communicate. As if the physical impairments aren’t enough, many will also suffer from cognitive issues such as difficulty with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment and memory. They may also have difficulty controlling or expressing emotions and often suffer from depression.
Know the 5 Major Symptoms of a Stroke in Progress!
1. Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs.
2. Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.
3. Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
à If you see or have one or more of these symptoms, call 911 immediately!
Traditional Approaches to Rehabilitation
After a stroke, the patient will often have difficulty with basic tasks of life such as eating, bathing and dressing themselves. Typically, a post stroke patient will go through a program that involves physical therapy to attempt to get them to relearn how to do these basic functions. Medications are often used to address the depression. When all of these methods are exhausted, if the patient still has impairments, care is geared toward helping the patient, their families and care givers to cope with and accept a life of disability.
A Novel Approach: Rewiring the Brain!
If you or a loved one are one of the millions of Americans who have survived a stroke and still suffer from long term impairments, know that for many of you, there is still hope for regaining function! Over the last decade, one of the “buzz” words in brain research has been the term plasticity. Plasticity refers to the ability of the brain and nervous system to literally rewire itself and improve overall connectivity and communication with remaining nerve cells. When someone has a stroke, the loss of blood flow to certain areas of the brain can result in a loss of some of the cells in areas supplied by the vessels. Research now shows us that in many cases function can be restored long after a stroke has occurred when appropriate stimulation (or therapies) is applied:
- Structural and functional plasticity in the somatosensory cortex of chronic stroke patients
- Remodeling the Brain: Plastic structural brain changes produced by different motor therapies after stroke
The implications of this approach go well beyond just the physical impairments and can also have a profound impact on the cognitive deficits that are seen in post stroke patients.
- Reorganization of functional connectivity as a correlate of cognitive recovery in acquired brain injury
The paper above shows us that the brain functions as an integrated complex network, in which local changes can alter the integrity of the brain as a whole and its functional status. Reorganizing brain networks has the potential to restore healthy functional connectivity patterns. When appropriate areas of the brain are stimulated, the reorganization and plasticity that occurs can have a profound effect on behavioral and cognitive improvements!
What Else is Possible?
- Hope for more health and function is what’s possible!
For many patients, gone are the days of accepting their current state of help and simply learning to cope with their impairment or disability. The research is clear that rewiring the brain can improve function leading to a healthier expression of life! Functional neurologists are the one group of health care professionals who understand this approach the best. They are trained to evaluate and identify which areas of the brain have lost function and how to best rewire the brain through specific therapies and modalities to restore as much function and health as possible. What are you waiting for? Find out what else is possible for you or a loved one that has survived a stroke!
Copyright © 2013 Integrated Health Systems. All Rights Reserved. Dr. Shawn VanWinkle is an Associate Doctor at Integrated Health Systems. To learn more about how we can help you with your health goals visit our website at www.integratedhealthdenver.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. A free initial consultation can be scheduled by calling our office at 303-781-5617.