An experimental stroke therapy involving the wearing of a glove using electrical sensors could help poststroke patients with hand weakness improve their hand dexterity more than an existing stimulation technique, according to a recent study.

In the therapy, developed by researchers at the MetroHealth System, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center, patients control the stimulation to their weak hand by wearing a glove with sensors on the opposite, unaffected hand.

When the patient opens their unaffected hand, they receive a corresponding amount of stimulation that opens their weak stroke-affected hand. This puts the patient back in control of their hand and enables them to participate in therapy with the assistance of electrical stimulation, notes a media release from the American Heart Association.

The study involved 80 poststroke patients. Half of them used the experimental stroke therapy using the glove, and the other half used a common therapy that uses low levels of electric current to stimulate the paralyzed muscles to open the hand, improve muscle strength, and possibly restore hand function.

Both groups used an electrical stimulator on their own at home for 10 hours a week, plus 3 hours per week practicing hand tasks with an occupational therapist in the lab. Hand function was measured before and after therapy with a standard dexterity test that measured the number of blocks participants can pick up, lift over a barrier, and release in another area on a table within a 60-second period, the release continues.

After reviewing the data, the scientists conclude, per the release, that: Patients who received the new therapy had greater improvement on the dexterity test (4.6 blocks) than the common group (1.8 blocks); and Patients who had the greatest improvements in hand dexterity following the new therapy were less than 2 years poststroke and had at least some finger movement when they started the study. These patients saw an improvement of 9.6 blocks on the dexterity test, compared to 4.1 blocks in the common group.

Further findings include: Patients with no finger movement also saw improvements in arm movement after the new therapy; and At treatment end, 97% of the participants who received the new therapy agreed that they could use their hand better than at the start of the study.

Researchers plan to perform a multi-site study to confirm these findings, as well as to measure quality of life improvements for patients.

They also suggest that the study demonstrates that stroke patients can effectively use technology for self-administered 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,” says senior author Jayme S. Knutson, PhD, assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, in the release. “The more therapy a patient can get the better potential outcome they will get.”

The study was published recently in Stroke.

[Source(s): American Heart Association, Science Daily]