Tag Archives: Health

Multiple Sclerosis Patients Benefit from Story Memory Technique

Researchers from the Kessler Foundation Research Center recently completed two clinical trials to test the Story Memory Technique (SMT), a non-medical, behavioral memory therapy designed to help patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) learn new information and improve their “everyday” memory. The trials were led by Dr. Nancy Chiaravalloti, Director of the Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Laboratory at the KesslerF oundation. Her findings have been presented at the 2011 European and Americas Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

Cognitive impairment is a symptom that affects 40 to 60 percent of MS patients. Patients who underwent both clinical trials experienced remarkable improvement in memory.  “What we found in research done in the 1990s is that they are having trouble learning new information,” Dr. Chiaravalloti told DailyRx. The SMT was designed to remedy that problem.

“If you expose them to that information over and over and over again – more than you would a healthy person – they can learn it, they can remember it, and use it appropriately,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti. “But they need more help initially learning new information.”

Dr. Chiaravalloti explained that the Story Memory Technique combines two methods of learning. The first method involves imagining words as pictures—visualizing information. “A lot of what we do in our daily lives is based on verbal information, or words,” she said. “If you visualize information theoretically, you’re engaging more brain regions in helping you learn that information.”

The second method is contextualizing information. “If we put things in a larger context and relate them to each other, we remember them better than if we’re remembering little pieces of information that aren’t related to each other,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti. “It teaches people how to take unrelated information and put it into a unified context.”

She gave as an example the task of remembering a to-do list. A person who has to pick up dry cleaning, go to the bank, and pay the bills would visualize all of those tasks as one single image—the dry cleaning hanging on the door and a pile of bills lying in front of a bank. The mental image forms a context around a person’s tasks and facilitates memory.

Dr. Chiaravalloti said some doctors currently use this technique, but until now there was no data to show its effectiveness on larger groups of patients. There was also no evidence to show the most effective means of implementation. “There’s not a standardized treatment protocol,” she said.

If the trials are any indication, SMT shows much promise for MS patients. “We show data that shows people report their everyday memory to improve after treatment,” Dr. Chiaravalloti said. “The other thing we’ve also shown is that there are changes in the brain after treatment – the pattern of activation in the brain when a person is learning a list of words.  After treatment, people show significantly more activation in areas associated with visual processing and organization, whereas patients who don’t undergo treatment show no change.”

Results from the first trial were published in 2005 and results from the second, larger trial will be published in 2012. Data from the second trial showed similar results to the first trial. The researchers hope to get information about the SMT’s benefits to clinicians for use with their patients. Dr. Chiaravalloti is optimistic that a standard treatment protocol will be in place as early as this Spring.


Tooth Stem Cells Could Advance Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury

Scientists from the Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan have reported that human dental pulp stem cells may help repair severe injuries of the spinal cord. Recent studies involving lab rats with severe spinal cord injury (SCI) that had human dental pulp stem cells implanted showed significant improvement in healing and movement, including allowing those with completely severed spinal cords to walk in just five weeks.

Dental stem cells have been gaining popularity in many areas of medical research, as they are easily obtainable and lack the controversy associated with embryonic stem cells. Dental stem cells are taken from adult teeth that are commonly extracted, such as wisdom teeth. Inside of the tooth is dental pulp, which is the soft, living tissue that contains the stem cells.

Past research has shown that dental stem cells may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of lost or damaged biological functions, but the Nagoya study gives hope that these stem cells may help heal the most serious of spinal cord injuries. According to the researchers involved in this study, the dental stem cells not only helped inhibit the death of the nerve cells, but also helped promote regeneration of severed nerves and replaced lost support cells in the rats with severed spinal cords. These are key factors in rehabilitation that past studies with stem cells collected from non-dental sources lacked.

According to Minoru Ueda, M.D., “To our knowledge, the latter two neuroregenerative activities are unique to tooth-derived stem cells and are not exhibited by any other previously described stem cells.” He continued, “We propose that tooth-derived stem cells may be an excellent and practical cellular resource for the treatment of SCI.”

While significantly more research is needed before these methods will be used in human patients with severe spinal cord injury, it does provide hope that easily obtainable stem cells may provide the key to a more complete and speedy recovery in the future for those with SCI. It is also one more reason you might want to take care of your teeth!


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Smoking Bans Potentially Endangering the Safety of Hospital Patients

Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

In an example of the law of unintended consequences, a recent study found that hospital smoke-free bans may be endangering the well-being of patients. The study, conducted by the Psychosocial Oncology and Cancer Nursing Research Group at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, Winnipeg, Canada, recently documented dangerous conditions that resulted when patients defied the smoking ban when hospitalized.

The study found incidences of wheelchair patients being accidentally locked out of the hospital on cold winter nights, patients dragging their IVs outside through the snow, IVs becoming frozen, and electronic equipment malfunctioning because of the cold temperatures.

The researchers’ study was based on interviews of nursing staff, patients and hospital workers at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre and the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The study concluded that not enough support is provided to smokers to manage withdrawal symptoms while they are hospitalized. As a result, patients are left to their own devices.

Hospital staff said patients would constantly ask to be taken outside. Patients maintained that they didn’t want to go outside alone to smoke because they were afraid they would get sick while outside. Those that did risked getting frostbite. Guards told of patients who were “pushing this IV pole all the way down the sidewalk in the snow” after they were told they couldn’t smoke on hospital grounds. One wheelchair patient was locked outside on a winter night because he couldn’t see the sign saying the doors lock after certain hours. The sign, placed at eye level, was too high for him to see.

Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

Another dangerous scenario documented by the researchers was of patients in isolation due to infection smoking outside, then tossing their used cigarette butts on the ground. The discarded butts could potentially spread disease if picked up and smoked by another person desperately wanting a smoke.

Additionally, hospital smoking bans disrupted nursing care when patients took smoke breaks, leaving nurses with no idea when they would return. Some nurses were understanding, others weren’t. Because smoking is considered a habit rather than an addiction, healthcare providers are not always sympathetic and may have a hard time understanding why a patient with a serious medical problem would continue smoking.

“I have zero understanding on the drive to make a person get out of there, have that cigarette when they’re obviously having pain,” said one healthcare worker. Another hospital employee was more sympathetic. “We need to address these people, because it is a stressful time to give up your bad habit.”

The researchers reported that although some patients managed to go cold turkey during their hospital stay, they had to do so with very little to no support.


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Toyota to Offer Health-aid Robots for Paralysis Patients by 2013

Toyota Independent Walk Assist Robot

Toyota Motor Corp. has brought healthcare to high tech, and the result is a new line of assistive robots designed to help people with physical disabilities. The auto giant recently announced plans to offer the Toyota Partner Robot series, a line of health-aid robots designed to lift and carry patients and help injured or paralyzed persons walk.

One of the robotic devices is the Independent Walk Assist, a mechanical exoskeleton for a person’s legs. The device enables a person with paralysis or other ailment to walk by utilizing computer sensors. The robots are expected to be available for purchase by 2013.

Toyota Patient Transfer Assist Robot

[Toyota] endeavors to provide the freedom of mobility to all people, and understands from its tie-ups with the Toyota Memorial Hospital and other medical facilities that there is a strong need for robots in the field of nursing and healthcare,” the company said. “We aim to support independent living for people incapacitated through sickness or injury, while also assisting in their return to health and reducing the physical burden on caregivers.”

Toyota Patient Transfer Assist Robot

Researchers at the University of California developed a robotic exoskeleton similar to the Walk Assist, which enabled a student with paralysis to walk across the stage like his classmates and receive his diploma in the spring of 2010. In 2000, after receiving backing from the US military, university researchers designed wearable robots to assist soldiers in carrying heavy loads. Toyota plans to make its version–called the Independent Walk Assist–available to Japanese paralysis patients by 2013.

Toyota Patient Transfer Assist Robot

The Independent Walk Assist is only one of several health-aid robots that Toyota recently revealed. Another model is the Patient Transfer Assist, a machine designed for use by patients and caregivers. The machine uses weight-bearing arms, a mobile platform, and robotic controls to move and carry patients.

Toyota Independent Walk Assist Robot

Each robot incorporates the latest in advanced technologies developed by [Toyota], including high-speed, high-precision motor control technology, highly stable walking-control technology advanced through development of two-legged robots, and sensor technology that detects the user’s posture as well as their grasping and holding strength,” Toyota reported.

According to MIT economists who recently spoke at a robotic symposium in Massachusetts, computers and robots will increasingly become more commonplace in the workplace in the years to come. Robots may even replace human workers in positions such such as call-center and clerical jobs. As a result, the economy will change and workers will have to be retrained.

The use of robotic exoskeletons has been extensively researched during the last decade. Two years ago, Japan-based Cyberdyne, Inc. designed a robotic exoskeleton named Robot Suit HAL. The device is worn like a suit and helps persons who suffered a stroke or debilitating accident regain their mobility.

Kudos to Toyota for considering assistive technology and accessibility in the design and implementation of new products for all people to use, regardless of ability.


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