Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Death from a massive stroke, of course, can be immediate. In other cases, the effects of a stroke can range from a temporary slur in speech, to a condition where the victim’s existence is reduced to that of a soul trapped inside a motionless body.
Most people are aware of some of the more obvious complications that can occur after someone has suffered a stroke. However, there is another debilitating condition that frequently accompanies the other complications, and that is depression. If someone you love has suffered a stroke, you will naturally be concerned about the effect that depression can have on their recovery.
Studies show that the intensity of the depression does not directly correlate with the patient’s degree of impairment. In fact, people who have not suffered a stroke, but whose mobility is impaired due to some other condition, do not experience depression at the same high rate as those who have suffered a stroke. This has led some researchers to conclude that the depression has to do with the injury to the brain caused by the stroke, rather than the restricted mobility.
This is important for one very good reason. The risk of death is three fold for depressed stroke patients compared to non-depressed stroke patients, regardless of their age or type or intensity of the stroke.
While it may be an oversimplification, you might say that the stroke victim, being immobile and depressed, simply loses the will to live, and this, of course, creates measurable and rapid physiological changes that can deplete the immune system. That is why successfully treating depression in the stroke patient is of the utmost importance.
The good news is that neurofeedback therapy can be helpful in stroke victims for improving balance, speech fluency, and attention, and eliminating or reducing anxiety and depression. Neurofeedback has recently been the topic of much media attention, and the results of several studies involving neurofeedback have been very promising.
The exciting thing about neurofeedback therapy is that it can effect permanent changes in the way a stroke victim’s brain functions. This is done through a series of sessions during which the therapist will attach very thin leads to the patients scalp. These transfer the brain wave readings to an EEG device. This procedure is safe and noninvasive, and most patients report that it is quite comfortable.
The patient then uses brain waves to alter what is happening to a visual display on a monitor. They will play a game, for example, or manipulate sounds, just by using brain waves. The brain perceives these activities as a reward, and with this positive reinforcement, will increasingly choose to use the desired waves, until eventually the changes in brain function become permanent.
Of course, physical rehabilitation remains an essential component of recovering from a stroke. However, with the discovery of the role that depression can play in a stroke victim’s recovery, or lack of recovery – neurofeedback therapy may prove to be just as crucial as physical rehabilitation.