One of the most common problems that people suffer after a stroke is a loss of sensation. Doctors still have a hard time figuring out what’s best to help patients recover this after a stroke. Strokemark has reported on other studies where Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) helped patients. However, the researchers in this study took VNS to another level, and they’ve discovered something that just might work. This case study shows that Vagus Nerve Stimulation through the implantation of a small device in the neck potentially helps with recovering sensation!
Vagus Nerve Stimulation through a surgically implanted device could help with stroke rehabilitation
Vagus Nerve Stimulation, or VNS, can be used during regular physical therapy to enhance nerve regrowth and improve a patient’s motor function after a stroke. American researchers were excited to discover that the use of this stimulation also helped one man recover from sensory impairments. The man was 72-years-old and was recovering from an embolic stroke that he had 2 years ago. On brain imaging, there was evidence of damage in the right middle cerebral artery. As part of his rehabilitation, he received a surgically implanted VNS device. The following 6 weeks included motor therapy paired with this VNS device for extra nerve stimulation. The patient got better, but still had some residual sensory problems that impeded his ability to function.
How VNS helped this man recover his senses
Thirty-three weeks after the end of physical therapy paired with VNS, and sixteen months after his stroke, the patient began tactile training paired with VNS. Things started to take a turn for the better. He had twenty sessions of VNS and tactile therapy over five weeks. The patient wore a blindfold during these sessions. He either had to say what object he was touching or find an object that was named. In each session, the patient did this about 50-60 times while a physical therapist triggered the stimulator remotely with a button. Every 2-hour session consisted of 254 paired VNS and tactile stimulations.
Through the combination of these therapies, he was able to improve his sensation in an extraordinary way. It was now easier to use his walking stick and complete household tasks.
VNS therapy has so much untapped potential for stroke recovery
For this patient, VNS and tactile therapy helped him get part of his life back after the stroke. Though this report represents only one case, it alerts us to the potential use of pairing these therapies. If neuron damage can heal even years after a stroke, many patients can recover from disabilities. Though the device is expensive, costing about 20,000 for both implant and procedure, its potential ability is promising. This exciting discovery calls for the need for further study, especially in the lab, to tease out what exactly this device does to our brain cells to help recover that motor and sensory function.
The first author of this article was Michael P. Kilgard, from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, in Richardson, Texas.
Read this amazing story of a patient who recovered function two years after a stroke.