Introduction

Training with RehAtt™ improves attention among stroke patients

Training with RehAtt™, a stimulating Virtual Reality method, improves attention among stroke patients even years after a stroke.

New method using 3D games can improve attention

Neglect, or spatial neglect is a serious and common condition after a stroke, where the patient loses the ability to be attentive to what is going on in half the world around them. Effective training has been lacking, but in a new study, scientists in Umeå have shown that with intensive training using a new method and 3D games, patients can improve their attention in tests and in everyday activities after only 15 hours of training - even years after the brain injury.

Stimulating vision, hearing and touch

In a so-called virtual reality environment, intensive training is done in 3D games, with exercises designed scientifically to improve attention. The training is enhanced with stimulation of vision, hearing and the sense of touch. The paretic or weaker hand after a stroke is activated by the use of a force feedback robot. It stands on the desk and by the use of an armsupport this small robot can guide the arm and help the paretic arm to control the game. By the use of real time physics in the RehAtt™ VR method, the 3D objects seem to appear as coming out of the screen. They can be physically experienced: they can be felt, they can be touched, moved around and placed in a 3D puzzle. *

*Acknowledgement to Kenneth Bodin and Anders Backman, Algoryx, for their skilled computer scientific input at project start.

This method could present an opportunity to help improve the attention of millions of stroke patients who today lack training for spatial neglect. Using the RehAtt™ they can learn a search strategy and improve their attention and become more aware of what is happening in their whole spatial environment. If they can look around to find what is happening around them, they may become more independent in their everyday life.

The potential to measure and assess spatial attention and reaction time

After continual development, the research method has two parts; one for assessment and one for training of neglect or spatial attention.

A computerized neglect test battery can quickly and with high accuracy find neglect and assess impairments in spatial attention. (Ref. Fordell et al 2011)
This computerized test battery, now on a touch screen computer, also offers the chance to follow and evaluate the effect of rehabilitation for spatial neglect.

The method is being used today in 9 stroke rehabilitation clinics in Europe and the USA. Via VINNOVA and Umeå University’s investments, the Swedish government has contributed to the financing and development of this research method to help it become a clinically evaluated and useful product in stroke care. During 2016 key opinion leaders in neuroscience and stroke rehabilitation clinic will use the method and give feadback for further improvements.

Ref Fordell H, Bodin K, Bucht G, Malm J. A virtual reality test battery for assessment and screening of spatial neglect. Acta Neurol Scand.2011;123(3):167–174.

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