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Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Originally Published: April 2, 2014
By: William Nguyen

Perhaps it is time for a profound change in neurological assessment and neurorehabilitation, particularly related to stroke and traumatic brain injury. Robotic technologies can provide a radically new and effective approach to clinical assessment of brain function and rehabilitation. This approach also takes advantage of the developments in our understanding of brain function to develop a range of behavioral tasks to assess the various brain circuits that support sensory, motor, and cognitive function. As well, it highlights how these same technologies can be used for rehabilitation in subjects following a stroke.

Our improved understanding of how the brain supports sensory, motor, and cognitive functions is directly linked to the use of advanced technologies that quantify brain signals, control sensory input to the brain, and monitor and modify body movement. Brain activity such as electroencephalography or functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to quantify brain processing. As well, computer monitors and virtual or augmented reality systems are commonly used to control visual stimuli for perceptual or motor tasks. Computer vision allows quantification of bodily movements using robots, motion-tracking systems, and eye-tracking technologies. Although we are far from a final description on the complexities of brain processing. Basic research provides a wealth of concepts and technologies that can be used to interpret brain dysfunction, but, as described in the following, have yet to adequately affect clinical assessment and rehabilitation related to the brain.

This highlights the present challenges facing clinical assessment of upper-limb impairments, and neurological abnormalities related to stroke and associated therapeutic interventions. Robots could create a new approach to clinical assessment and rehabilitation building from present knowledge on how neural circuits in the brain generate the various sensory, motor, and cognitive function. True, the capital costs of these technologies are much more than existing approaches, but these new tools potentially provide a much more cost-effective approach to patient diagnostics, offering a broader, more complete assessment of neurological impairments and the capability to support treatment that may be better suited for the specific needs of each patient.

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