Researchers to Address Spatial Neglect in Stroke Patients

A common side effect of cerebrovascular accident (stroke) is unilateral spatial neglect, when a stroke patient demonstrates lack of attention to stimuli in the half of the environment that’s opposite the location of the brain injury. That lack of attention can impact patients’ independent mobility and their ability to safely and efficiently perform activities of daily living.

It’s a problem being addressed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Northeastern University (Boston), who’ve been awarded National Science Foundation grants worth a total of more than $1.18 million.

A University of Pittsburgh news announcement about the grants noted that unilateral spatial neglect is a common problem that impacts 29 percent of stroke patients, “yet detection and rehabilitation of this condition are lacking.” The grants will be used “to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) system that will be implemented in augmented reality, allowing for better detection, assessment, and rehabilitation of unilateral spatial neglect.”

Murat Akcakaya, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, said in the announcement, “Current detection methods are limited and do not account for changes in severity over time, and while rehabilitation may help reduce neglect, it [is] less effective at reducing neglect-related disability. Incorporating everyday tasks with effective rehabilitation strategies may be the best way to improve the quality of life for this population.”

The BCI system monitors a patient’s brain activity to detect when a portion of the patient’s visual field is being neglected. When that happens, the system provides repetitive visual, auditory, and haptic feedback to the patient. Because the system is also integrated into an “augmented reality environment,” healthcare professionals can test stroke patients in “real-world situations” as they carry out everyday tasks.

The researchers believe that repeated feedback as patients perform activities of daily living “may be the most effective strategy for stimulating attention to the neglected side of the body.” The system is customizable in that stroke patients can use it while performing activities that are most common to their particular everyday routines.

According to the announcement, unilateral spatial neglect can lead to longer hospital stays and the need for more extensive rehab regiments for patients.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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