I remember being in the room with Anat Baniel some years ago. I heard her tell the group an important detail about working with stroke victims immediately in the hospital. One of our staff members had called Anat to ask how to best work with a friend, who having just had a stroke, was in the hospital. Anat told the class about the instructions she had given. This is how I heard it (not a quote):
The most important thing to do right away is to support the affected hand (and foot) so that they can easily make the smallest response. It doesn’t matter how small the response, but it has to be movement initiated by them, not done by you. Helping a stroke patient do this small movement on their own may help speed their motor recovery to the affected side.
This sounds incredibly simple, right? Within the year, I had the unhappy opportunity to try this out myself as our dear friend and cousin suffered a stroke that affected his entire right side. We went to visit him right away and, sure enough, by supporting his hand and making it very easy for him to respond, he moved his finger! So we went through all the fingers and then all the toes and he responded! I showed this technique to his wife and daughter so that they could repeat it and build on what he could already do. With that start and the combination of therapies that he received, our cousin was driving in a year! One of the therapies that helped him continue his amazing progress during his rehabilitation was hippotherapy with his wife, a nurse practitioner, and his daughter, an OT.
After our cousin’s remarkable stroke recovery, I continued reading the book, The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. In the book, Doidge describes research showing that when there is damage to the spinal cord there is a critical period of time that is called “spinal shock”. If the brain or spinal cord damage is to one side of the body only, as is common with stroke, when the patient tries to do what they used to be able to do with the affected limbs, they won’t be able to use those limbs. Because of this inability to move, the brain will begin to function as if the limbs no longer work. However, if the affected limbs are put in a cast (for one to three months) until that critical period is over, the limbs will be able return to functioning. This is why asking for only a tiny amount of movement can help to keep the affected limbs functional. Even though we are calling for movement during the critical period, we are asking for only that tiny amount of volitional movement that is possible. Further on in Doidge’s book, research showed that right after the damage, or even years later, by casting the “good arm”, the non-functional arm could come back into use as well.
Please do check me on the details. Also, please be aware that I am in no way suggesting to do anything other than get a stroke victim to a hospital and medical attention immediately. This small Anat Baniel MethodSM movement lesson is only useful after a patient’s life has been saved and only with the awareness and agreement of everyone involved. At the same time, the earlier the patient can move with volition, the better. The possibilities for early treatment and stroke recovery seem to go far beyond our usual way of thinking. In a similar way, children who have brain damage or have missing brain structures are also able to learn and improve.