2022/09/15 | Research | Rehabilitation & Neural Engineering

Including somatosensory interventions in motor training

Somatosensory impairment plays an important role in hampering motor skills recovery in stroke survivors, yet somatosensory interventions are often neglected – amongst others due to complex training needs with therapists guiding the hands of patients. The Motor Learning and Rehabilitation lab has now developed a virtual reality-based robotic texture discrimination task to assess and train touch sensibility to address this clinical need.

Study setup (Adrian Moser © University of Bern)

Somatosensory information is crucial in movement execution during activities of daily living. Yet, somatosensory retraining is not in the standard care in neurorehabilitation due to among others limited resources in rehabilitation and the lack of clinical instruments that objectively quantify and train touch sensibility.

To address this clinical need, the Motor Learning and Neurorehabilitation lab developed a virtual reality-based robotic sensory discrimination task to assess and train touch sensibility. The system incorporates the possibility to robotically guide the participants' hands during texture exploration (i.e., passive touch) and no-guided free texture exploration (i.e., active touch). 

In an experiment with 36 healthy participants, it was found that participants significantly improved their task performance after training. Training effects were not significantly different between active and passive conditions, yet passive exploration seemed to increase participants' perceived competence.  A virtual reality-based robotic haptic system may be a key asset for evaluating and retraining sensory loss with minimal supervision, especially for brain-injured patients who require guidance to move their hands.

The MLN lab is currently recruiting healthy participants for a follow-up study on this topic.