Using magnets to find your voice again – how treating both sides of the brain helped one man regain his speaking abilities

July 2, 2018

Imagine losing your ability to speak. Your communication skills reduced to one-word utterances. Imagine one day being able to hold a meaningful conversation and the next day hardly being able to say a word. This problem, known as aphasia, can happen after a stroke if the part of the brain that handles language is affected. And it turns out that when it comes to speaking, both sides are not created equal. The left side of the brain controls most language abilities. But for one patient, treating the whole brain gave him amazing results.

Aphasia is notoriously hard to treat, especially in patients who are past their 1-month recovery window after a stroke. But one 63-year old man’s recovery window didn’t close after a month. In fact, a technology using magnets was able to help this man recover some of his speech almost a year and a half after he suffered his stroke.

The man who lost his voice

This patient was a Serbian, right-handed man who worked as a telecommunication tech before his stroke. His stroke devastated the left side of his brain, but mostly the white matter where signals get transported. His gray matter, where the bulk of the neurons live, were relatively spared.

The damage was severe, and he ended up with right-sided weakness and severe aphasia. The most he could speak was one-worded phrases that were no more than one syllable. That’s like saying yes, or no, and not much else.

In an effort to get better, he went through intense therapy and rehabilitation. Though he regained a lot of his right arm and leg function, he had a hard time with his speech. By the time he met the researchers who would try this magnetic therapy on him, he had been suffering from the same, severe aphasia for over a year.

Was all hope lost?

The researchers didn’t give up on this patient. They decided to use TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation. This therapy uses powerful magnets to stimulate brain neurons through the head. It’s a relatively new technology but has been used in various neurologic conditions. The patient was treated with TMS focused on both the left and right side of the brain, particularly concentrating on areas that deal with language.

After the treatment, the patient began to speak! His language tests started to creep up in all categories, and he was improving rapidly in his ability to name things. He also saw a significant jump in his ability to speak more words, and his understanding of verbal commands. He saw the most improvement in his ability to have meaningful speech and conversations. Besides language, he also improved his memory and learning functions too.

A lesson to never give up

Most of the time, people who have lived with their stroke deficits for a long time believe there’s no hope to improve. But here is a case that shows us we should never give up! This patient saw a considerable improvement in his ability to speak after suffering from his disability for over a year.

Although this is only one patient’s experience, we should keep an eye out for TMS as a potential therapy for treating aphasia. The Strokemark team will continue to keep you updated on the newest TMS research.

 

The lead author of this study was Jasmine Vuksanovic, the Department of Neurophysiology, Institute for Medical Research, the University of Belgrade, Beograd, Serbia.

Editorial note:

Here is a case that shows us we should never give up!

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