Find out how one man recovered his senses after a stroke

May 3, 2018

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 sensation after 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 is a case study showing 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 therapy 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.

With tactile therapy paired with VNS, he was able to improve his sensation in an extraordinary way. It was now easier to use his walking stick and he had a much easier time with household tasks.

VNS therapy has so much untapped potential for stroke recovery

For this patient, VNS and tactile therapy was the magic duo that helped him get part of his life back after the stroke. Though this report is only representing one case, it alerts us to the potential use of VNS with tactile therapy. If we could help heal some of the neuron damage done by stroke even years after the stroke had occurred, we can help many patients recover from disabilities that we had previously thought were permanent. Though the device is expensive, costing about 20,000 for both implant and procedure, its potential ability is not to be overlooked. 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.

Editorial note:

Read this amazing story of a patient who recovered function two years after a stroke.

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