Improving poststroke recovery: Neuroplasticity and task-oriented training
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- Harvey, R.L. Curr Treat Options Cardio Med (2009) 11: 251. doi:10.1007/s11936-009-0026-4
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Neurorehabilitation is a critical part of the overall process to achieve optimal outcome after stroke. Presently, the field of neurorehabilitation is in transition. New research suggesting novel approaches to optimize functional recovery after stroke is on the horizon, but clear knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of this recovery is still being unraveled. In practice, many rehabilitation centers continue to provide traditional compensatory rehabilitation training while many others are practicing newer, “task-oriented” approaches. A few centers are incorporating new technology, such as computer-based training devices or robotics, into rehabilitation care. This transition is happening because neuroscientific research has shown that neuroplastic changes in the cerebral cortex and in other parts of the central nervous system (CNS) are necessarily linked to motor skill retraining in the affected limbs. Task-oriented training that focuses on the practice of skilled motor performance is the critical link to facilitating neural reorganization and “rewiring” in the CNS. Therefore, whenever possible, task-oriented training at an intense level should be incorporated into the rehabilitation program of any patient with stroke-related motor deficits. Two such task-oriented therapies that should be available at all neurorehabilitation centers are constraint-induced movement therapy and body weight-supported treadmill training. The optimal intensity of training (frequency and duration) is still not clear but is certainly greater than that available in clinical programs. Therefore, the incorporation of automated training devices will be necessary in the future. However, the engineering necessary to make these devices effective, easy to use, affordable, and portable remains a challenge for the next decade of neurologic bioengineering research.