New glove-based stroke therapy improves hand function

brain imaging

A new electrical stimulation therapy improved hand function in stroke patients more than a currently used stroke rehabilitation therapy. If results are replicated, the glove-based treatment may lead to more home-based therapy for stroke survivors.

According to the CDC, about 800,000 people in the U.S. have strokes each year. Of those, more than 130,000 die. Those who survive tend to have some amount of paralysis or partial paralysis on one side of the body, including difficulty opening a hand, according to a statement. To improve hand dexterity, stroke patients commonly receive low levels of electric current in the muscles used to open the hand. The hope is to stimulate the paralyzed muscles to improve their strength and potentially restore hand function.

Researchers from the MetroHealth System, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center developed an alternative therapy that involves the use of the unaffected hand to control stimulation to the muscles of the weakened hand. Patients wear a glove with sensors on the unaffected hand. When a patient opens that hand, it triggers a corresponding amount of electrical stimulation in the muscles that open the stroke-affected hand, the researchers said. The device allows patients to actively participate in their rehabilitation by controlling the stimulation. In currently available treatments, a therapist decides the intensity of stimulation, the cycle timing and repetitions.

The researchers tested their device in 80 stroke survivors over 12 weeks. Half of the patients used the glove, while the other half received traditional therapy. Both groups also used an electrical stimulator at home for 10 hours each week and spent three hours per week practicing hand tasks with an occupational therapist, according to the statement. The researchers measured hand function before and after the 12-week period using a standard dexterity test.

The findings, published in the journal Stroke, showed that patients using the glove therapy improved more on the dexterity test than those who received traditional therapy. Additionally, 97% of the study participants said at the study’s end that they could use their hand better than at the start of the study. The study also demonstrated that stroke patients can effectively self-administer therapy at home.

“Home-based therapy is becoming increasingly important to offset increasing healthcare costs and to meet the need for high doses of therapy that are critical for attaining the best outcomes,” said Jayme Knutson, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Case Western, in the statement. “The more therapy a patient can get the better potential outcome they will get.”

The study took place at a single site, so the researchers plan to perform a multisite study to confirm their results. Further studies are also needed to discern the effects of the therapy on the central nervous system.