Assessing neurofeedback in stroke survivors

A new study aims to assess the use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a type of imaging, to provide neurofeedback during stroke rehabilitation with a goal of eventually improving patient outcomes.

fNIRS is used to detect changes in brain oxygen levels using light. More recently it has also been used to develop brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow patients with brain injuries to control devices like robotic arms with their thoughts.

Dr. Sue Peters, a Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and Director of the Neurorehabilitation Physiology Lab at St. Joseph Health Care London’s Parkwood Institute, was one of the recipients of the Spring 2022 Lawson Internal Research Fund (IRF) Awards. 

The funds will go towards a new study to assess whether fNIRS can be used to direct neurofeedback in stroke survivors – helping them with rehabilitation.

“Currently, there's no real measure of brain activity that is used in stroke rehabilitation to help make clinical decisions,” says Dr. Peters, who is also a Professor at Western University.

Dr. Sue Peters
Dr. Sue Peters

Over 400,000 Canadians live with the effects of a stroke, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and there’s hope that fNIRS could make a big difference by eventually improving movement and independence.

“We're going to use the device in some common tasks that people might do with their arm and determine whether we can use this device reliably and accurately in a stroke-related context,” Dr. Peters explains. 

Participants in the study will imagine moving while remaining still. This activates very similar parts of the brain to when people actually move. If done correctly, patients will see a visual cue generated through measurement using fNIRS.

“We know from MRI studies that when I move my right hand, the left side of my brain is activated,” notes Dr. Peters. “We think we can use this concept in stroke rehab.”

Dr. Peters is recruiting 40 people from the community who are at least six months post stroke and 40 healthy adults of all ages. They will first participate in motor assessment with a physiotherapist and then wear an fNIRS cap while thinking about moving their wrist to measure brain activity.

Previously, there were a lack of methods to image the brain during real-life movement.

“The hope is to eventually conduct a clinical trial where we're testing motor interventions to see whether some things are more effective than others at activating the regions of the brain that were impacted by the stroke.”

Dr. Peters believes the study has the potential to have a big impact on the future of rehabilitation for stroke patients, leading to lasting changes in quality of life.

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Amanda Taccone

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Lawson Health Research Institute
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