Imagine losing your sense of balance. Suddenly, everything is off. You might struggle with your ability to complete daily tasks or with your confidence to go out into the world alone. Many stroke survivors have to deal with this issue.
Balance is a huge part of stroke recovery. However, as important as it is, there is no medical consensus on how to best regain balance following a stroke. No single approach has been proven superior regarding the benefit to patients in the months or years following a stroke. But as we reach new frontiers in the application of brain stimulation technologies, that might be about to change!
Targeting the balance center of the brain
Researchers from the Netherlands and the US have investigated the use of anodal cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This specific form of brain stimulation is believed to restore the ‘balance’ of particular cells in the part of the brain that controls temporal and spatial accuracy. In other words, electrical current directed at a specific location of the head targets the part of the brain that affects your ability to balance and interact with the world around you.
The researchers applied tDCS in 15 patients with chronic stroke and 10 healthy, age-matched controls. All participants completed a tracking task while undergoing standing brain stimulation. The tracking task involved following a dot that moved on a screen. The researchers assessed standing balance before and after stimulation with eyes open, eyes closed, and while in a ‘walk-the-line’ stance.
Watch this video for an general explanation of TMS
Overall, balance when ‘walking the line’ improved in the participants recovering from a stroke. And the healthy controls? Their balance was just as good (or as bad) as before.
This supports the theory that this type of tDCS could be useful in restoring order in the balance centers of the brain. With further research to optimize timing and determine the relationship between ‘dose’ and improvement, it could prove to be a standout addition to the ever-expanding world of post-stroke rehabilitation.
We will continue to update you as new research comes out on this topic.
The lead author of this study was Sarah B. Zandvliet, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam Neuroscience, and Amsterdam Movement Sciences, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
A more targeted method of brain stimulation shows promise in improving balance in stroke survivors.