Role of Neurostimulation and Neuroplasticity in the Rehabilitation of Dysphagia After Stroke
Swallowing problems are common after brain injury, and can affect as many as 50% of patients in the period immediately after stroke. In some cases this can lead to serious morbidity, in particular malnutrition and pulmonary aspiration. Despite this, swallowing therapies remain controversial, with limited evidence base and little in the way of objective scientific criteria. Moreover, swallowing can recover in some patients to a safe level within weeks, making it an interesting model for understanding brain recovery and cortical plasticity. A better understanding of these adaptive processes as seen in spontaneous recovery therefore may help in developing therapeutic interventions that can drive plasticity and so encourage the recovery process. In this article, I will examine present knowledge about the recovery mechanisms for swallowing after brain injury, particularly from investigations with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and explore what aspects are important for compensating for recovery after damage. In addition, I will describe novel approaches to swallowing therapy, based on objective neurophysiological models that may be useful in speeding up the process of recovery and encouraging cortical plasticity that may form the basis for future clinical trials of dysphagia after brain injury.