This has been a difficult week. My younger sister, who lives too far away for me to visit easily - has had a stroke and is in hospital recovering. Her left side has been affected and particularly the use of her left arm and hand. This blogpost is for her and others like her in that it describes a type of therapy that often is able to help patients in similar situations to recover even if their condition is complete paralysis and has not been treated for years.
The picture on the left above shows the patient in the centre who has two therapists working with her. The patient’s view is shown in the picture on the right. She is instructed to look only at the reflection in the mirror that looks exactly like her affected limb – especially if any rings or a watch has been removed. If she does simple exercises with her good hand while attempting to do the same thing with her affected hand behind the mirror, neural pathways in the brain seem to be stimulated into helping the affected hand actually learn the same simple movements. The technique requires daily repetitions over weeks or even months but in many cases, studies show that it helps patients regain use of the affected limb.
If you click on the video link, you will see Doug, a stroke victim who actually has paralysis of his left arm and hand, learn how a mirror box may actually be starting to help him probably after many months of disuse. Another patient remarked that, “all my other methods of therapy exercise my muscles, the mirror is the only one which exercises my brain and nerves”. The box Doug uses may be purchased on line but you can easily make one using a cardboard carton and taping a mirror to one face of it as shown in the picture on the left. A mirror tile can be used for the purpose and may usually be bought at a hardware store – it is important that it is a good mirror and does not have any distortions
Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, a pioneer in the study of the brain, was the originator of the use of mirrors to help patients not only with paralysis caused by stroke but also those who had phantom pain in amputated limbs, arthritis in only one hand, carpel tunnel pain or complex regional pain syndrome [CRPS].
We are all right or left handed and I’ve read that learning to be ambidextrous increases neural circuits that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and can be helpful in many ways from increasing sports skills to playing music. I’ve been thinking of trying out a mirror box myself and out of curiosity to try to stimulate my brain to make it easier to learn to use my left hand. Rie