There’s a growing trend in stroke rehabilitation — magnets! Scientists discovered that the use of magnetic fields can stimulate areas of the brain. This finding is good news for stroke patients as it can aid in speech recovery.
Too good to be true? No, it’s not. Studies prove that a promising technique called TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation works. One such study comes from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Alabama.
TMS helping to create new connections
Researchers found out that TMS is beneficial for those who have chronic aphasia, a language impairment that makes it difficult for a patient to express and understand language, both in reading and writing. It’s a common side effect of stroke. By stimulating the brain with a magnetic field, it starts to form new connections. The brain’s capacity to reorganize itself and build new connections is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows the brain cells to compensate for disease or injury and adjust their activities in response to changes in their environment. These changes in the brain help aphasia patients recover. TMS can promote these types of positive changes.
TMS is a promising technique that can benefit not just those with chronic aphasia but also those in the acute phase after stroke. During a TMS therapy session, the doctor will hold a small magnetic device close to the head to target the language-specific areas. This device will transmit magnetic pulses, causing activation of the brain cells.
The exact mechanism as to how TMS works in stimulating the brain cells for language improvement is still unknown. Researchers though agree that patients with aphasia can benefit from the stimulation of the left side of the brain (also known as the language area). Activation of the right side still requires further studies.
In regards to its safety, the only reported major side effect of TMS is seizure. However, established safety guidelines prevent this. The guidelines specify the number of pulses that can be administered safely to the patient.
When it comes to the cost, a full course of TMS, which is about 20-30 sessions (this is about three to five times a week for four to six weeks) will cost you about $6,000 to $12,000.
Does your insurance company cover the costs? It depends. Most insurance providers consider TMS as “experimental and investigational” when it comes to stroke care. Which means they may consider financing it when prescribed by a physician, but only after traditional treatments were unsuccessful.
The first author of this publication was Dr. Shah from the Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.