The aftereffects of a stroke brings great challenges for our staff and clients and great rewards. People who have had a stroke commonly receive physical, occupational and speech therapies immediately afterwards. At Brain Works, we have been able to help people even years after their stroke recovery time have ended.
The focus at Brain Works is to use the principles of brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to change over a lifetime) to stimulate the growth of healthy brain cells that will take over for cells damaged by a stroke. We use a multi-sensory approach that includes auditory, visual, motor, balance, language and cognitive stimulation.
Understanding Stroke Recovery
The most powerful method used at Brain Works is auditory training for the ears, body and brain. By simply having clients listen to specific frequencies within classical music in a prescribed sequence, we get amazing improvements in clients’ listening, learning and movement.
While the ears are taking in the musical sound waves, energy is transported from nerves in the ears to the brain. That energy stimulates brain cells to grow more branches (dendrites), which connect with other brain cells and forms more abundant pathways within and among various brain regions. The brain then becomes more capable of processing information coming in from the five senses and movement of the body. At that point, more recovery from the stroke becomes evident through improved capabilities of skills that had been lost.
One of our stroke clients made significant progress in his ability to focus as his brain was energized by our modified musical frequencies. His memory, organization and math skills improved as well. His most significant accomplishment was that his independent living skills increased including his ability to pay his bills without his daughter’s help.
Another of our tools is visual-motor-balance activities that clients perform while they are listening to their auditory training music, thus providing multi-sensory stimulation to the brain.
Pychologist Donald Hebb, the creator of the Hebbian Theory, discovered that brain cells that repeatedly and persistently fire together will connect with each other. A popular saying is, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
During multi-sensory training, several brain regions are stimulated at the same time (visual, motor, vestibular and auditory). For people who have had a stroke, Brain Works’ multi-sensory training prompts healthy brain cells to grow and reach around the damaged cells and make new, functional pathways.
For four years following his stroke, one of our clients could no longer read, an activity he had enjoyed earlier. The brain damage caused him to have difficulty focusing on and comprehending written material. His visual-motor-balance and auditory training at Brain Works combined with reading aloud for a minimum of 10 minutes a day produced improvements in his eye tracking and visual stamina. Much to our surprise, our client completed four books within his four months of brain training, two of which were large volumes, The Killing of Lincoln and The Killing of Kennedy.
Language training at Brain Works improves receptive and expressive language during stroke recovery. During one of our activities, the client listens to words or phrases being spoken under different conditions, one of which has background noise. The client repeats what is heard into a microphone and hears his or her voice through headphones. The frequencies within one’s voice and the vibration of the larynx or voicebox are both powerful stimulators of the brain. So, in addition to the practice of listening to and repeating words and phrases, the voice becomes one’s personal brain and auditory trainer.
We also have an activity we use for people who have aphasia, the partial or total loss of ability to speak or write words. A left hemispheric stroke can cause aphasia. This is due to the location in the brain for the ability to understand and use verbal or written language is in the left hemisphere. The language training we use causes a little-used speech area in the right hemisphere of the brain to be exercised. It takes a very long time to recover speech, but with daily training at Brain Works and at home, we’ve see improvement.
One of our clients came to us with about a five-word vocabulary, and he often used those words inappropriately. His most frequent response to any question was “banana”, which was never relevant. “No” came out of his mouth, when he meant “yes”. By using our program at Brain Works and at home, he gradually was able to access several more words, use them appropriately and speak in phrases.
Computer-based cognitive training and mentally stimulating games are included in our assortment of activities for stroke recovery. Skills addressed include attention, memory, visual perception, reading speed and processing speed. Surprisingly, University of Florida researchers found that older adults who receive as few as 10 sessions of mental training show long-lasting improvements in reasoning and speed of processing skills 10 years after the intervention.
One of our stroke clients improved his reading speed by 200 words per minute. The computer program used for reading speed after stroke recovery at Brain Works benefits the client by providing eye exercises along with reading practice. As the eye muscles get stronger, there is less eye strain. Eye tracking and peripheral vision improve, which leads to smoother, faster reading.
Since the brain is capable of change over a lifetime, it is never too late to seek more help to heal the brain after a stoke. After the standard regimen of occupational, physical and speech therapies, there are other treatments available at Brain Works.