- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

DALLAS (AP) — Intensive therapy with people who suffered a stroke years earlier seems to improve their speaking ability, a small study suggests.

Although the experiment must be duplicated with a larger, broader group, several physicians praised the results.

“Anything that sort of tests our old thinking, which is that you can’t get better after a year, I always think is exciting,” said Dr. Marilyn Rymer, medical director of the Saint Luke’s Mid America Brain and Stroke Institute in Kansas City, Mo. She was not involved in the study.

Researchers looked at 27 stroke survivors — 16 men and 11 women with an average age of 51 — who for four years struggled with varying degrees of aphasia, problems with speaking and comprehending words after a stroke.

About 700,000 people each year experience a new or recurrent stroke in the United States. Signs of a stroke include a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, sudden loss of strength or sensation on one side of the body and slurred speech or a change in language.

The patients in the study were given 30 hours of speech training — three hours a day over 10 days. Before the training, the patients had trouble finding the right words or understanding what other people said. They improved soon after the training and that progress was maintained six months later.

Lead author of the study, Marcus Meinzer of the Universitat Konstanz in Konstanz, Germany, said that 38 percent of stroke survivors have aphasia after a stroke on the left side of the brain. While there is often spontaneous improvement in patients during the first six months after a stroke, as many as 60 percent still have problems speaking six months later.

Mr. Meinzer said they tested language functions such as naming, repeating words and sentences, comprehension and written language.

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