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Background. Despite distal arm impairment after brain injury is an extremely disabling consequence of neurological damage, most studies on robotic therapy are mainly focused on recovery of proximal upper limb motor functions, routing the major efforts in rehabilitation to shoulder and elbow joints. In the present study we developed a novel therapeutic protocol aimed at restoring wrist functionality in chronic stroke patients. Methods. A haptic three DoFs (Degrees of Freedom) robot has been used to quantify motor impairment and assist wrist and forearm articular movements: flexion/extension (FE), abduction/adduction (AA), pronation/ supination (PS). This preliminary study involved nine stroke patients, from a mild to severe level of impairment . Therapy consisted in ten 1-hour sessions over a period of five weeks. The novelty of the approach was the adaptive control scheme which trained wrist movements with slow oscillatory patterns of small amplitude and progressively increasing bias, in order maximize the recovery of the active range of motion. The primary outcome was a change in the active RoM (Range of Motion) for each DoF and a change of motor function, as measured by the Fugl-Meyer assessment of arm physical performance after stroke (FMA). The secondary outcome was the score on the Wolf Motor Function Test (WOLF). Results. The FMA score reported a significant improvement (average of 9.33±1.89 points), revealing a reduction of the upper extremity motor impairment over the sessions; moreover, a detailed component analysis of the score hinted at some degree of motor recovery transfer from the distal, trained parts of the arm to the proximal untrained parts. WOLF showed an improvement of 8.31±2.77 points, highlighting an increase in functional capability for the whole arm. The active RoM displayed a remarkable improvement. Moreover, a three-months follow up assessment reported long lasting benefits in both distal and proximal arm functionalities. C- nclusions. The experimental results of this preliminary clinical study provide enough empirical evidence for introducing the novel progressive, adaptive, gentle robotic assistance of wrist movements in the clinical practice, consolidating the evaluation of its efficacy by means of a controlled clinical trial.
Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, IEEE Transactions on (Volume:PP , Issue: 99 )