I was riveted by Jill Taylor Bolte's 2008 book, My Stroke of Insight, describing her experience as a 37-year old brain scientist who suffers a stroke. It was inspiring and transformational, altering my sense of how to interact with anyone who might have had a stroke. "Through the eyes of a curious neuroanatomist, she watched her mind completely deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered her mind, brain and body. In the book, Bolte shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained into the unique functions of the right and left halves of her brain. Having lost the categorizing, organizing, describing, judging and critically analyzing skills of her left brain, along with its language centers and thus ego center, Bolte's consciousness shifted away from normal reality. In the absence of her left brain’s neural circuitry, her consciousness shifted into present moment thinking whereby she experienced herself 'at one with the universe.'”
But new research may point toward new ways our brains can be helped, at the moment the stroke is happening, to short-circuit the damage, and make it more probable that the patient will return to pre-stroke functionality. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of long-term disability. Ischemic stroke, due to an interruption in blood supply, is particularly prevalent; 87% of all strokes are ischemic. Unfortunately, current options for acute treatment are extremely limited and there is a great need for new treatment strategies. University of California Irvine neuroscientist Ron D. Frostig says that if rats are any guide to human health (and they often are the starting point for new treatments), stroke victims might do a lot better with a quick dose of stimulation instead.
His research, A Rat’s Whiskers Point the Way toward a Novel Stimulus- Dependent, Protective Stroke Therapy, proved that when a rat suffering a stroke had its whiskers stimulated the rat's brain compensated and new pathways were created bypassing the blocked blood flow to the brain. If applicable to humans this treatment, something as simple as singing to or massaging a stroke victim, could be a very important breakthrough in protection from stroke for two main reasons: 1) This is a drug-free, equipment-free, and side effects–free treatment that could save lives of stroke victims and 2) because “time is brain,” it may be possible, for the first time, to develop a stroke treatment strategy that could be easily initiated anywhere by anyone, including informed family, friends, or first responder when the first signs of stroke appear, long before the ambulance arrives.
So read Jill Taylor Bolte's book and remember to sing to someone who might be experiencing a stroke.