Electrical stimulation of the arms and hands affected by a stroke is one rehab technique that can provide a lot of benefits if done right. One major problem is having a reliable method of activating stimulation at just the right time so that the patient feels in control and gets the most out of the therapy.
Researchers in Ohio at the MetroHealth System, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center developed an electrical stimulation system that uses the strong hand to control the grip of the weakened one. An electronic sensing glove is worn by the hand on the stronger side of the body. Every time the person squeezes the hand with the glove, it sends an appropriate signal to an electrical stimulator connected to electrodes on the other arm that in turn make that hand create a grip. The same happens when the grip is opened, just that different muscles are stimulated as a result.
To test the new system in comparison to the existing stimulation method, the research team enrolled 80 patients post stroke for a three month program. Half of the people received the traditional stimulation therapy, while the other half used the new system. Most of it was performed by patients on their own at home in addition to three hours spent with a therapist at the rehab lab.
Here are the promising findings shown in the study:
- Patients who received the new therapy had greater improvement on the dexterity test (4.6 blocks) than the common group (1.8 blocks).
- Patients who had the greatest improvements in hand dexterity following the new therapy were less than two years post-stroke and had at least some finger movement when they started the study. These patients saw an improvement of 9.6 blocks on the dexterity test, compared to 4.1 blocks in the common group.
- Patients with no finger movement also saw improvements in arm movement after the new therapy.
- At treatment end, 97 percent of the participants who received the new therapy agreed that they could use their hand better than at the start of the study.