Georgetown Researchers Report on the Science of Stroke Recovery

September 28, 2016 - As part of the so-called “stroke belt,” Washington, D.C. has high incidence of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

At “Music for the Mind Presents Brain Recovery After Stroke,” three researchers from the Georgetown University - MedStar National Rehabilitation Network Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery discussed stroke symptoms, prevention and the science of stroke recovery, with an audience of Georgetown friends and donors at Georgetown on September 21.

“The southeast quadrant of the U.S. is an area of the country where the occurrence of stroke is much higher than the rest of the country and the Washington, D.C. region is part of that,” said Alexander Dromerick, MD, co-director the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery. However, he added, the reasons why are not well understood.

Lessons from Children

Researchers who study stroke frequently do so as a way to learn lessons about brain plasticity —how the brain recovers from injury, Dromerick said. For example, Elissa Newport, PhD, director of the Brain Plasticity and Recovery, studies children who have suffered a stroke.

“Whenever I say I work on stroke in children, people always feel like that’s very, very terrible…,” Newport said. “But the good news is that children really recover much, much better than adults in most cases and we’re trying to understand how and what we can learn about the nature of the way they recover that we can then apply to adult recovery.”

Language and Stroke

Peter Turkeltaub, MD, PhD, director of Georgetown University Cognitive Recovery Lab and director of MedStar National Rehabilitation Network Aphasia Clinic, studies loss language after a stroke, known as aphasia.  

“[Aphasia] is not just the inability to speak. It’s a problem with the brain’s inner structure of how words are represented and how they’re connected to ideas, and also how those words are put together into sentences,” Turkeltaub explained.

One-third of everyone who experiences a stroke suffers from aphasia and two-thirds of those who develop aphasia after a stroke never fully recover, he said. However, while the greatest strides in stroke recovery are made in the first few months after a stroke, researchers don’t completely understand why some individuals recover better than others.

“People never really stop recovering from a stroke,” Turkeltaub said.

Know the Signs

Dromerick emphasized the importance of knowing the signs of stroke: sudden new onset facial weakness, arm or leg weakness and trouble talking.

“Time matters because we have treatments available to us that work in the first four or five hours after stroke,” he said. “So if somebody around you or you yourself are having those symptoms out of the blue, please call 911 and get to the hospital so that those treatments can be started immediately.”

Kat Zambon
GUMC Communications