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Robots may help stroke patients to learn to deal with spatial neglect

Posted February 1, 2018

Life of stroke survivors is usually changed forever. They suffer from a variety of different conditions and disability. Some of these people tend to eat only from one side of the plate, shave or apply make-up only on one side of their face. Now a team of scientists, led by the University of Queensland, is trying to create new treatments for a better recovery after a stroke.

Stroke on the right hemisphere causes people to neglect the space to their left. Image credit: El Moroco via Wikimedia

The reason why some stroke survivors favour only one side of food or their own face is spatial neglect – they simply find it difficult to see things on their left. It occurs after damage to the right hemisphere of the brain and causes a tremendously debilitating disability. It affects 85 % of people who suffered a stroke on the right hemisphere of their brain. Results of this condition are rather sad. People find it extremely difficult to concentrate on the left side of the space, which is why they leave food on the left side of the space, take care only of half of their face and so on. But scientists hope to have a solution in their hands.

There are treatments for spatial neglect, but they are not that convenient. For example, patients have to wear special spectacles that contain prisms shifting the entire field of view towards the right. This makes people learn to reach things in their neglected side. This method, sadly, is not always successful – some patients experience no improvement whatsoever. That is why scientists now are thinking about using robots to train people to work on the left more. No prisms would be used – a robot would just physically push the hand away to the side. Scientists believe that this would improve rehabilitation and help to control spatial neglect a little easier. It is worth a shot, since currently used method is not effective on a large number of patients.

Scientists are now looking into testing new methods of rehabilitation. Timothy Carroll, one of the authors of the study, said: “We hope to show that learning to move straight when the robot pushes the hand to one side will help people with neglect to better orient attention to the left side of space. This will help us to better understand the links between attention and movement after stroke, and may lead to new rehabilitation approaches for stroke survivors with attention deficits in the future”.

As the population ages and becomes less and less healthy, it is predicted that stroke cases are going to grow in number. That is why it is very important that scientists find new treatments and rehabilitation methods.


Source: University of Queensland

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