Stroke is a devastating disorder that strikes approximately 15 million people worldwide. While most patients survive stroke, many are left with lifelong impairments, thereby making stroke the leading cause of permanent neurological disability.
Despite this, there are a few options for treatment of acute stroke. Restoration of blood flow using clot-dissolving drugs has produced impressive benefits in some patients. However, for these drugs to be effective, they must be given soon after stroke onset and relatively only a few stroke patients reach hospital within this time.
Side effects of these compounds further limit their use. Summary: Enhancing the brain’s endogenous capacity for reorganization and self-repair offers the most promise for victims of stroke. Indeed, many stroke patients show considerable spontaneous functional improvement. Findings in the last 15 years suggest that stroke and related injury create a cerebral milieu similar to that of early brain development, a period characterized by rapid neuronal growth and neuroplasticity.
A variety of interventions (e.g., stem cells, delivery of growth factors) are currently being explored in order to enhance neuroplasticity and reorganizational processes that are important for recovery of function. An emerging concept is that combinational or ‘cocktail’ therapies are more effective than single interventions in improving stroke recovery. Among these, one of the most promising therapies is enriched rehabilitation, a combination of environmental enrichment and task-specific therapy (e.g., reach training).