Strokes affect many Americans annually and can leave lasting symptoms. The disruption of blood flow which occurs during a stroke alters many of the processes handled by the brain,including speech, mobility, the senses, thinking, and memory. A multitude of different healthcare providers employ a wide variety of methods in stroke rehabilitation with the goal of enhancing the independence and quality of life for a stroke patient. While researchers have long understood that a stroke causes brain damage, new research suggests that the brain has a way of coping – “remapping” after a stroke.
In an article published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Delaware and John Hopkins University state that there is evidence that the brains of stroke patients “may be highly plastic even years after being damaged.” In their research, the scientists found that “the brains of those stroke patients may change much more easily than the undamaged brains of healthy people,” a phenomenon they refer to as “hyper-lability.”
The participants in the study had lost their ability to localize touch due to sustaining a stroke. The researchers touched these patients on the wrist and fingertips while the patients’ eyes were covered. They found that the patients believed the second spot that was touched happened further down the finger and closer to the wrist. This thought, which the researchers attribute to “experience-dependent plasticity,” indicates that the neural map in the brain had shifted in response to the earlier touch. Non-stroke damaged people do not experience this effect.
The researchers believe rehabilitation specialists can utilize the plasticity of brain mapping to aid in improving function after a stroke or other brain injury. However, the overall plasticity of the brain in these instances is ultimately unknown. Future research will address that, the researchers say.