Answers to curious stroke
cases imminent – study
STROKE sufferers with a condition that causes them to apply make-up to or shave only one side of their face tend to have worse recovery rates than other stroke victims.
And Queensland scientists claim to now know why.
Unilateral spatial neglect is caused by strokes that affect the right side of the brain and result in sufferers ignoring the left side of their body.
People with the condition may ignore food on the left of their plate or fail to shave or put make-up on the left side of their face.
Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) researcher, Marc Kamke, says this group did not regain movement or cognitive function as well as other stroke sufferers.
He says QBI researchers have found this is probably because their ability to pay attention to that side of the body is severely impaired.
Through a series of tests with about 50 healthy volunteers, QBI researchers investigated the impact of attention on the brain's ability to repair itself.
The results suggest the best way for stroke victims to recover is to minimise any distractions during rehabilitation therapy and have the patient completely focused on the therapeutic task.
This undivided attention is more likely to increase the brain’s ability to rewire or relearn, a process known as plasticity that is essential for stroke recovery, says Dr Kamke.
“We’re showing the first, convincing evidence that attention is necessary for plasticity to actually occur,” he says.
“When you are totally engrossed in something else, plasticity is not going to occur.
“That’s the problem for people with (unilateral spatial) neglect, because they can’t focus on that side of space or to their body.
“Even though they might be having some sort of physical therapy on the side of their body that is paralysed, they can’t actually attend to that . . . side of their body.
“That helps explain why their outcomes are so poor, because their attention is elsewhere.”
Dr Kamke says he hopes the study, published in the recent issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, will pave the way to better therapy or interventions for unilateral spatial neglect sufferers.
He says there could also be implications for a range of brain injury sufferers with cognitive or attention dysfunction.