Medical Research Update
Chamalian, David, The Exceptional Parent
NEW THERAPY FOR PEOPLE DISABLED BY STROKE
A recent study reveals the promise of a new rehabilitative therapy for people who have limb paralysis due to stroke. After a stroke, some cells that may control limb movements remain in shock and, therefore, cannot function. According to the study's authors, each time a person tries to use the limb with paralysis and fails, the failure gets reinforced and the limb falls into a state of "learned helplessness."
The new therapy, called constraint-induced-movement therapy, forces the person to use the affected limb to do familiar, everyday tasks. Edward Taub, MD, a neurologist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and his staff have found that by immobilizing the unaffected arm for a strict regimen of six hours a day and at least two weeks straight, the brain can relearn to use the affected arm. Results of the 13-person study showed that all of the participants had regained nearly full use of their affected limbs after the therapy (preliminary tests show that the therapy is as effective on legs as it is on arms, but more studies are being done to confirm this.). The study also found that the therapy worked for individuals who have lived decades with limited use of a limb due to stroke.
Stroke expert and Duke University Medical Center Professor Larry Goldstein, MD, however, cautions that the study has "big limitations" because there was no control group, and is based on a significantly small number of people. "Is it promising?" he asked. "Yes. Is it proven? No." This study was published in the June 2000 issue of Stroke.
SHUNTING IN YOUNG ADULTS WITH SPINA BIFIDA PROVES POSITIVE
Researchers who studied 23 young adults with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (which is assumed to be controlled) have discovered that cerebrospinal fluid shunting can improve neuropsychological functioning. The results of studies done six months before and six months after the surgical placement of a shunt show "significant improvements..... in verbal and visual memory, motor coordination, and attention and cognitive flexibility." Younger children with hydrocephalus may benefit most from shunting, say researchers, due to the "greater plasticity of the young brain." According to Maria Antonia Poca, MD, and her colleagues at the University of Barcelona, the "improved cognitive functions will probably lead to clinical, educational, and social benefits." To view this study, refer to the May 2000 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.
YOUNG ADULTS ON DIALYSIS ADVISED TO MONITOR CORONARY-ARTERY CALCIFICATION
According to results of electron-beam computed tomography (CT)(*) tests performed on 39 people (ages 7 to 30) with end-stage renal disease, researchers have discovered, among the study participants between ages 20 and 30, a proportionately high incidence (14 out of 16) of vascular calcification compared to results of tests done on a control group of 60 healthy young people (of which only 3 participants showed signs of the calcification. …