Computer-aided therapy has stroke patients 'kayaking' through recovery

LynneGauthierRTFImageFuriously paddling a kayak through frothing whitewater is usually the last thing we expect to see a person doing when recovering from a stroke.

Yet, that's exactly what Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation researchers from the Neurological Institute at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are asking patients to do.

"Recovery Rapids is a computer-based game that allows us to deliver rehabilitation therapy in the homes of people who have had a stroke, traumatic brain injury or other condition that leaves them with significant impairment in one arm," says Lynne Gauthier, PhD, who is the principal investigator of the pilot study that developed the game.

"Nearly 50 percent of patients who have motor disability – loss of full use of an arm or hand (hemiparesis) after stroke – have difficulty dressing themselves, cooking or performing other functions of daily living, in part because they don't have access to therapy that is proven to make a difference," she explains.

The "gold standard" of care therapy, Constraint-Induced (CI) movement therapy involves strengthening the weaker limb through intensive practice while using behavioral techniques to promote carry-over of motor gains to daily activities.

"Recovery Rapids incorporates CI therapy into a video game, using Microsoft Kinect technology, so that patients are exercising their affected limb intensively. They paddle the kayak, reach fruit from passing bushes, wave bats away and do other fun, engaging activities using therapeutic movements. Our pilot study showed improvements in arm function that are roughly equivalent to those produced with CI therapy," Dr. Gauthier explains.

She is principal investigator of a new $2-million study that directly compares the effectiveness of Recovery Rapids to in-clinic CI therapy and the current standard of care. She is also conducting related work to further examine mechanisms of neuroplasticity following motor rehabilitation.