Study suggests new rehabilitation methods for amputees and stroke patients

March 12, 2014
MU study suggests new rehabilitation methods for amputees and stroke patients
Frey and his team found that patients compensate when losing a dominant hand, suggesting new and improved rehabilitation techniques for those suffering from amputation or stroke. Credit: MU News Bureau

When use of a dominant hand is lost by amputation or stroke, a patient is forced to compensate by using the nondominant hand exclusively for precision tasks like writing or drawing. Presently, the behavioral and neurological effects of chronic, forced use of the nondominant hand are largely understudied and unknown. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have shed light on ways in which a patient compensates when losing a dominant hand and suggest new and improved rehabilitation techniques for those suffering from amputation or stroke.

"Half of the work in our lab focuses on , particularly upper limb amputees, who are out of the acute phase of their recoveries; the other half involves those who have suffered the loss of function due to stroke or neurological disorders," said Scott Frey, professor of and director of the Brain Imaging Center at MU. "Our project analyzed the consequences of losing your dominant hand and how behaviors change for amputees. We also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain function in people adapting to those situations. Our hope is that by studying how amputees cope in these circumstances, we can help improve rehabilitation methods and quality of life in patients facing this loss."

In the study, amputees forced to use nondominant hands performed simple drawing tests and were checked for speed and accuracy. Frey and Benjamin Philip, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences at MU, found that individuals who were forced to compensate with their nondominant left hands actually performed precision tasks as well as the control group did with their dominant right hands.

The same tests were then conducted under fMRI so that could be observed. Researchers found that the areas formerly devoted to motor and sensory functions of the amputated hand actually contributed to compensation for the loss on the nondominant side.

"Most people know that the left side of your brain controls the right hand and vice versa," Frey said. "For example, if you're right-handed and you're writing or drawing, the left sensory and motor areas show increased activity. We found that when amputees were forced to use their nondominant hands for years or decades, they exhibited performance-related increases in both the right and left hemispheres. In other words, their ability to compensate with the left hand appears to involve exploiting brain mechanisms that previously were devoted to controlling their now absent dominant hands. This compensatory reorganization raises the hope that, through targeted training, non-dominant hand functions can be vastly improved, enabling a better quality of life for those who have lost dominant hand functions due to bodily or brain injury or disease."

Although more work is needed, Frey specifically suggests that his team's work on amputees may inform who do not regain precision control of the during acute and subacute phases of recovery. For some patients in the chronic phase of recovery, which is the first 7-18 months following a stroke, it may make sense to train the less affected nondominant side.

Frey's study, "Compensatory changes accompanying chronic forced use of the nondominant hand by unilateral amputees," was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and was funded by a Department of Defense grant. Frey is the Miller Family Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and holds a joint appointment as an adjunct professor in the Departments of Neurology, Psychiatry and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine at MU.

Explore further: Research finds rapid brain 'remapping' in patients years after stroke

Related Stories

Research finds rapid brain 'remapping' in patients years after stroke

March 7, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—By examining the sense of touch in stroke patients, a University of Delaware cognitive psychologist has found evidence that the brains of these individuals may be highly plastic even years after being damaged.

A helping hand for prosthetics

April 11, 2012
An EU-funded project has developed an artificial hand that will revolutionise the lives of amputees. The so-called Smarthand has all the basic functions of its real counterpart including sensitivity and motor control.

Novel rehabilitation device improves motor skills after stroke

December 2, 2013
Using a novel stroke rehabilitation device that converts an individual's thoughts to electrical impulses to move upper extremities, stroke patients reported improvements in their motor function and ability to perform activities ...

Neuroscientists create phantom sensations in non-amputees

April 11, 2013
The sensation of having a physical body is not as self-evident as one might think. Almost everyone who has had an arm or leg amputated experiences a phantom limb: a vivid sensation that the missing limb is still present. ...

'Virtual reality hands' may help stroke survivors recover hand function

November 17, 2013
"Virtual reality hands"—controlled by stroke survivors' thoughts—could help them recover use of their hands and arms, according to a small study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013.

Recommended for you

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds

July 25, 2017
Just as athletes cross-train to improve physical skills, those wanting to enhance cognitive skills can benefit from multiple ways of exercising the brain, according to a comprehensive new study from University of Illinois ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.