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‘Brain pacemaker’ could help stroke patients recover quicker

Engadget logo Engadget 5/14/2018 K. Filippidis

a person in a pot © Microtransponder Inc Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may play a beneficial role in the motor recovery of stroke patients, new clinical trials at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have revealed. As part of the therapy, stroke rehab specialists surgically implant the MicroTransponder Vivistim -- an electrical device that stimulates the vagus nerve -- into the patient's chest wall. It works via a wireless transmitter, which picks up signals, redirects them to the vagus nerve (located in the neck) and stimulates the brain whenever a therapist pushes a button.

a person making a funny face © Provided by Engadget The device assists patients by strengthening motor connections when they perform an action correctly. Essentially, it's rewiring brain circuitry, a phenomenon also referred to as neuroplasticity. This means that the release of new neurotransmitters from the brain could help a patient who has lost mobility in their arms or legs to slowly regain control. Researchers hope that the additional layer of activation will prompt the brain to remember the associated motion, and improve the recovery process.

An earlier study showed that 'Paired Vagus Nerve Stimulation' helped around 85 percent of patients who received it. According to Dr. Marcie Bockbrader, a physiatrist at the Wexner Medical Center, it's "like turning on a switch"; she likens the Vivistim to a 'brain pacemaker' that makes a stroke patient's brain more responsive, and suggests that if it's used in combination with regular rehabilitation practices, it could potentially speed things up -- especially in patients who are facing more severe stroke-related impairments.

While the surgery seems to impart little discomfort, and is fairly non-invasive, it is described as a pretty intensive therapy program -- particularly during the initial six weeks. Dr. Bockbrader said that trials are still ongoing and is actively seeking participants.

Wexner Medical CenterDiagnostic and Interventional Cardiology

Gallery: Am I having a stroke? 7 signs of stroke you might be ignoring (courtesy Prevention) Never ignore these signs of a stroke: In each minute of a stroke, your brain loses an estimated 1.9 million cells. Each hour a stroke goes untreated ages your brain the equivalent of three and a half years. The longer a stroke lasts or a patient doesn’t receive treatment, the greater chance of lingering speech difficulties, memory loss, or behavioral changes. The earlier a stroke is caught, the better the treatment options, which can minimize damage and improve the odds of a fuller recovery. 'Stroke is scary. Denial is the biggest factor in delaying treatment. When I ask stroke patients in the ER why they waited to call 911, the most common response is that they wanted to see if it would go away,' says Carolyn Brockington, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Stroke Center in New York City.There are two kinds of stroke. An ischemic stroke means blocked blood vessels cause a reduction in blood flow in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke means a ruptured blood vessel is leaking blood in the brain. Symptoms for both kinds of stroke can be the same. It’s important to call 911 as soon as you notice any potential signs of trouble. Try these 30 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Am I Having a Stroke? 7 Signs of Stroke You Might Be Ignoring


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