Ataxia means without coordination. It can occur after stroke and may affect various body parts including the eyes, hands, arms, legs, body or trunk, and speech. Ataxia is most common after a cerebellar stroke and can be identified by wide and unsteady gait, the inability to perform rapid alternating movements, uncoordinated movement of the limbs, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, jerky movement, and impaired balance. Though ataxia is most commonly noted with cerebellar stroke, lesions in other parts of the brain can result in ataxia as well. These include lesions in the basis pontis, corona radiata, thalamus, and posterior limb of internal capsule.
There is no treatment to cure ataxia, but treatment aims at reducing the symptoms. These treatments include speech, occupational, and physical therapy as well as medications. The speech therapist can help strengthen muscles used in speech and swallowing, teach breathing exercises to improve speech, teach patients to speak more slowly, recommend modifications to one's diet for safe swallowing, and advise patients about adaptive communication devices if needed.
The occupational therapist can introduce adaptive equipment to help compensate for decreased coordination as well as teach fine motor and upper extremity coordination exercises. For information on adaptive equipment that can be used to help with ataxia and other disabilities, visit https://www.makoa.org/.
The physical therapist can work on improving gait, balance, and strength. Visit the stroke rehab exercises page for information on specific types of exercises done with stroke patients. For information on exercises that can be done with ataxia, visit https://ataxia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Coordinative_Physiotherapy.pdf. Make sure to consult with your MD or therapist before attempting any exercises to make sure the exercises are safe and appropriate for you.
If you're having muscle spasms, cramps and stiffness because of ataxia, medication for relaxing muscles may be used to control these symptoms. Discuss medication options with your MD. Medications may be available to treat other problems caused by or associated with ataxia including depression, dizziness, fatigue, uncoordinated movement, thinking disorders, abnormal eye movements, overactive bladder, restless legs, sleeping disorders, stiffness, spasticity and more. For information about various medications used for ataxia symptoms and related disorders, visit https://ataxia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Medications_for_ataxia_symptoms.pdf.
For more information on ataxia, one can visit the following websites:
National Ataxia Foundation - www.ataxia.org
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