Stroke-related conditions can present in many different ways. Some are immediately visible, while others such as those affecting attention and our perception of the world around us are less apparent. These less visible conditions are commonly linked to unilateral neglect. This disorder affects up to 80% of right-brain stroke sufferers. A standardized approach to therapy for this remains elusive. However, some research articles suggest that this may be about to change. Some existing drugs show potential for application in unilateral neglect. But is a change really coming?
Investigating the ADHD drug, Guanfacine
A team of researchers from across the UK have examined the potential role of Guanfacine in unilateral neglect. Guanfacine is a medication that was approved for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in 2010. It helps people to focus their attention. The researchers had a simple hypothesis. They asked since unilateral neglect manifests as reduced attention to the environment on the stroke-affected side of the body, wouldn’t improvements in attention lead to improvements in the disorder?
The team followed thirteen patients. Each patient received a low dose of Guanfacine for two days out of four. The researchers tested the patients right before they took the medication and two hours after. They tested patients for spatial attention (i.e., whether they ignored certain areas within their visual field) and their ability to ‘focus’ their attention on the task at hand over the four days of the study.
Patients showed improvements in their ability to ‘search’ across their visual field with Guanfacine. However, they did not show improvements in memory or attention. The researchers hope to conduct further studies, using higher doses of Guanfacine over longer periods of time. They would like to test this with a greater number of patients to determine whether the improvements in visual search ability show real clinical benefits. If so, it could herald a new approach in the way we treat unilateral neglect following stroke. If no real benefits exist, we might need to keep searching.
The main authors of this study were Edwin S Dalmaijer, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, and Korina M S Li from the Centre for Restorative Neuroscience, Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, London, UK.
Some drugs originally developed for other diseases could also help stroke-related problems.