Communicating with aphasia can be tough. Patients might only see slow progress. But a case study from John Hopkins University can ignite the hope of those with this language impairment.
The case study
The study looked at a 57-year old man with chronic aphasia who regained almost 100% of his pre-stroke spelling ability. This improvement came after supplementing his language therapy with a few sessions of painless magnetic treatments. The patient suffered from a stroke on the right side of the brain nine years ago, leaving him with chronic aphasia. He had another stroke five years ago which affected the left side of his brain. As a result of his aphasia, the patient communicates through writing in a notebook or on an iPad. A variety of gestures supplement this communication. He doesn’t have any problem writing simple 3-letter words and some 4-letter words. However, he has difficulty in identifying writing errors.
Patients like this man usually receive speech-language therapy. Typically results are slow and show little improvement.
A new approach to treat aphasia
The researchers tried a new approach: a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This method is a touch-free way to stimulate a small part at the back of the brain called the cerebellum. Mainly responsible for motor functions (movements), the cerebellum also plays a role in language control and in learning new skills. This part of the brain is usually ignored in traditional stroke therapy as it is presumed that the focus should be on the affected areas – where the stroke hit. To stimulate the cerebellum, the researchers used a tDCS device called ActivaDose II Stimulator on the patient. He received 3-5 tDCS fake treatments followed by real tDCS training. Spelling exercises complemented each treatment.
Between the two treatments, the man showed more significant improvements after the real tDCS training. He was able to spell almost 100% of the trained words and more than 75% of the untrained words. He only correctly spelled 50% of the trained and 25% of the untrained words after the fake treatment. Although this study was only tested on one patient, it showed promising results from the use of tDCS treatment for patients with chronic aphasia.
How does this apply to you?
If you’re concerned about its safety, don’t be. You’ll be happy to know that tDCS is a painless, safe and easy technique to apply. In fact, it can be done at home. There are tDCS devices that can be purchased for home use although it’s highly recommended that you do this with an experienced clinician. You can get a tDCS device on Amazon for as low as $149.
Will your insurance provider cover the cost? Due to the “experimental and investigational” nature of tDCS, your insurance provider will likely not cover the cost. They might only be willing to do so after the completion of further studies.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Sebastian from the Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Baltimore, MD, USA.