University of Queensland researchers are leading a world-first project that might help overcome disability that can affect many everyday activities for stroke survivors. And UQ is looking for stroke survivors to participate in a testing session.

School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences researcher, associate professor Timothy Carroll said the research would investigate a new therapy in which robots would guide the hand to retrain the stroke survivor’s brain. He said current therapies are not working for some survivors.

“The neuropsychological condition, called spatial neglect, often occurs after damage to the right hemisphere of the brain, making it difficult for stroke survivors to pay attention to the left side of space,” Carroll said. Up to 85 per cent of right hemisphere stroke survivors have reduced ability to attend to the left side of space. He said these common traits, post stroke, can affect many activities such as shaving or applying makeup only onto one side of the face, eating food from only the right side of the plate or running into objects on the left. “At present there is no satisfactory treatment for people with spatial neglect.”

One current treatment involves reaching towards visual targets while wearing spectacles containing prisms that shift the entire field of view towards the right. To reach accurately while wearing the prism spectacles, people with spatial neglect must learn to reach targets on their neglected side.

Carroll said the treatment’s effectiveness varied dramatically for different patients; ranging from long-lasting functional improvement after a single session to no benefit at all. “We are testing a new approach, in which we use a robot to physically push the person’s hand to one side while they are reaching, instead of using prisms to distort vision. 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.”

Stroke survivors with damage to the right hemisphere are being sought to participate in a single two-hour testing session at the UQ 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 to objects with their right arm.

Stroke Foundation figures show that more than 475,000 Australians are living with the effects of stroke in 2017, with this number predicted to rise to one million by 2050.

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