Strokes more commonly occur in older adults, but they can also strike babies possibly because of the stressful effects of birth on the young body's blood vessels and circulation.
Perinatal Stroke Survivors Regain Ability To Communicate
Unlike adults, however, babies who suffer stroke in the side of the brain that deals with language are able to regain their ability to communicate.
In a study published in the journal Science and presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researchers reported the cases of kids and young adults who experienced stroke when they were infants who grew up able to understand language as well as their healthy siblings.
The researchers found that a decade or two after perinatal stroke damaged the left side of the brain, the part that contains most of the language function, these individuals, aged 12 to 25 years old at the time of the study, used the right side of their brain for language.
Interestingly, imaging revealed that language function in these individuals is in the exact mirror opposite region of the normal language areas of the left side of the brain.
"Each function, like language or spatial skills, has a particular region that can take over if its primary brain area is injured. This is a very important discovery that may have implications in the rehabilitation of adult stroke survivors," said study researcher and cognitive neuroscientist Elissa Newport, from Georgetown University Medical Center.
Signs Of Earlier Damage To The Brain
Newport said that these individuals' language is good and normal, with only some signs of earlier damage to brain such as limping a bit. Many also learned to make their left hand dominant because their right-hand function was impaired by stroke.
Some also have executive function impairments, such as slightly slower neural processing, which commonly occurs in people with brain injuries. Basic cognitive functions such as language comprehension and production, however, are excellent.
Young Brains Are Flexible To Adjustments
The researchers think that the infants who suffered from stroke benefited from the time window during their development when their young brain is still flexible enough to make adjustments. The researchers said that a better understanding of this elasticity may possibly help adult stroke survivor regain their ability to speak and understand language.
"We believe that the results shed light on the principles and patterns underlying developmental plasticity for language and in the future may lead to techniques for driving more successful language development and recovery in children and adults with brain injuries," the researchers said.