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Robots to push stroke survivors towards better recovery

Robots will guide the hands of stroke survivors to retrain the brain in a new research project that aims to help people overcome spatial neglect.

The neuropsychological condition often occurs after damage to the right hemisphere of the brain and makes it difficult for stroke survivors to pay attention to the left side of space, University of Queensland researcher associate professor Timothy Carroll said.

“Up to 85 per cent of right hemisphere stroke survivors have reduced ability to attend to the left side of space, which can affect many activities.

“A person might fail to eat the food on the left half of their plate, and they might only shave or apply make-up to the left side of their face.

“They may collide with objects or structures such as door frames on their left."

Carroll said currently there are no satisfactory treatments for people with spatial neglect.

The team will test an approach in which a robot physically pushes the person’s hand to one side while they are reaching. It differs from a current leading treatment that involves reaching towards visual targets while wearing spectacles containing prisms that shift the entire field of view towards the right.

Carroll said the effectiveness of that treatment varies dramatically for different patients, ranging from long-lasting functional improvement after a single session to no benefit at all.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The UQ researchers are looking for stroke survivors with damage to the right hemisphere to participate in a single two-hour testing session at UQ’s St Lucia campus in Brisbane.

Volunteers must be able to sit in a stable position for an hour, have no significant vision impairments (normal spectacles are fine), and be able to effectively reach for objects with their right arm. Carroll can be contacted on [email protected].

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