A common condition that occurs after a stroke affects one side of the brain is hemispatial neglect, where the affected person isn’t able to recognize or see anything on one side of the body. A new study in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, indicates that magnetic stimulation of nerve cells in the brain, delivered by a large electromagnetic coil placed on the scalp, may decrease the amount of time it takes to recover.
“The treatment is based on the theory that hemispatial neglect results when a stroke disrupts the balance between the two hemispheres of the brain,” says study author, Giacomo Koch, MD, PhD. “A stroke on one side of the brain causes the other side to become overactive, and the circuits become overloaded.”
The study was conducted with ten people receiving ten sessions of magnetic stimulation over two weeks. Ten other people received a similar treatment, but the level of stimulation they received wasn’t high enough to stimulate nerve cells. All twenty participants also received the traditional treatment of computer and pen-and-paper training.
At the end of treatment, and two weeks later, both groups of ten were given tests to measure their ability to process information on the neglected side of the body. The people that received magnetic stimulation improved by 16% at the end of treatment and had a 22% improvement recorded two weeks later. There was no recorded improvement in the ten people that received reduced levels of magnetic stimulation.
I think this discovery could be very beneficial for people suffering from hemispatial neglect, but I wish a third group had been used for the study. The standard treatment of computer and pen-and-paper training was used for both groups and I think results might have been more telling if a third group had only received magnetic stimulation. Did the standard treatment have any influence at all? If not, why is the treatment used in the first place?