Dr. Randolph Marshall, chief of the stroke division at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that "scientific advances in our understanding of brain function are allowing us to develop effective ways of improving outcomes in patients who lose function as a consequence of stroke."
"As our population ages, the total number of strokes will rise over the next 10 to 20 years," he said. "Work like this is crucial to help improve outcomes of stroke victims."
The brain works to a large degree by balancing excitation between the two hemispheres, Marshall said.
"A good example is directing one's attention to one side or the other. With stroke in one side of the brain, the balance between the two cerebral hemispheres is thrown off, and the stroke victim cannot attend to one side of space," he explained.
"Magnetic stimulation, in combination with physical therapy, reduces the over-excitability in the side of the brain opposite to where the stroke occurred," Marshall added.
"What is important in this article is that the authors were able to demonstrate both the improvement in directed attention, and the underlying electrophysiology that allowed it to happen," he said.
Another expert, Dr. Larry Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center, expressed some caution about the findings.
"This is an interesting preliminary study," he said. "Whether this results in a clinically meaningful improvement in ways that affect daily activities, and whether it is generalizable in other settings. requires further study," Goldstein said.
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