Stroke Survivors Regain Movement With Video-Game Device

Inexpensive, Wearable Therapy Increases Arm Mobility, Reduces Stiffness

Severely impaired stroke survivors are regaining arm movement, even after decades of immobility, thanks to a new video game-led training device invented by scientists at Northwestern Medicine.

The myoelectric computer interface (MyoCI) device helped retrain stroke survivors’ arm muscles to move more normally. Most of the 32 study participants experienced an increase in arm mobility, a reduction in arm stiffness while using the device, and retention of arm function a month after the training ended. 

Abnormal coupling of muscles causes bent elbows in many stroke patients. This can prevent them from benefiting from typical stroke-rehabilitation therapies, such as training on bathing, dressing, and eating. MyoCI identifies those muscles which are abnormally coupled and retrains them to move normally by using their electromyogram to control a cursor in a customized video game.

Only about 30% of stroke patients in the U.S. receive therapy after in-patient rehabilitation stay. Often, injuries are too severe to benefit from standard therapy, or therapy costs too much, or patients live too far from a therapist.

On average, the study participants, who could only move their arm and extend their elbow slightly, were able to extend their elbow angle by 11 degrees more than before using the device. Most of the patients had experienced their stroke more than six years prior to the study, and some had experienced their stroke decades before.

The treatment requires only a minimal amount of muscle activation, which is helpful for severely impaired patients who often can’t move sufficiently to begin standard therapy. The device also lets the patient know whether they are activating their muscles correctly.

The researchers have teamed up with a company on an early version of a wearable device so they can study at-home use with patients. The device communicates wirelessly with a laptop or tablet and the goal is to make it completely wireless and wearable.

Source: EurekAlert!, March 19, 2019