Rhythmic Haptic Cueing for Gait Rehabilitation of People With Hemiparesis: Quantitative Gait Study

Theodoros Georgiou, Simon Holland, Janet van der Linden

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Rhythm, brain, and body are closely linked. Humans can synchronize their movement to auditory rhythms in ways that can improve the regularity of movement while reducing perceived effort. However, the ability to perform rhythmic movement may be disrupted by various neurological conditions. Many such conditions impair mechanisms that control movement, such as gait, but typically without rhythmic perception being affected. This paper focuses on hemiparetic stroke, a neurological condition that affects one side of the body. Hemiparetic stroke can cause severe asymmetries in gait, leading to numerous physical problems ranging from muscle degeneration to bone fractures. Movement synchronization via entrainment to auditory metronomes is known to improve asymmetry and related gait problems; this paper presents the first systematic study of entrainment for gait rehabilitation via the haptic modality.

This paper explores the gait rehabilitation of people with hemiparesis following a stroke or brain injury, by a process of haptic entrainment to rhythmic cues. Various objective measures, such as stride length and stride time, are considered.

This study is a quantitative gait study combining temporal and spatial data on haptically cued participants with hemiparetic stroke and brain injury. We designed wearable devices to deliver the haptic rhythm, called Haptic Bracelets, which were placed on the leg near the knee. Spatial data were recorded using a Qualisys optical motion capturing system, consisting of 8 optoelectronic cameras, and 20 markers placed on anatomical lower limb landmarks and 4 additional tracking clusters placed on the right and left shank and thigh. Gait characteristics were measured before, during, and after cueing.

All 11 successfully screened participants were able to synchronize their steps to a haptically presented rhythm. Specifically, 6 participants demonstrated immediate improvements regarding their temporal gait characteristics, and 3 of the 6 improved their gait in terms of spatial characteristics.

Considering the great variability between survivors of stroke and brain injury and the limited number of available participants in our study, there is no claim of statistical evidence that supports a formal experimental result of improved gait. However, viewing this empirical gait investigation as a set of 11 case studies, more modest empirical claims can be made. All participants were able to synchronize their steps to a haptically presented rhythm. For a substantial proportion of participants, an immediate (though not necessarily lasting) improvement of temporal gait characteristics was found during cueing. Some improvements over baseline occurred immediately after, rather than during, haptic cueing. Design issues and trade-offs are identified, and interactions between perception, sensory deficit, attention, memory, cognitive load, and haptic entrainment are noted.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere18649
JournalJMIR Biomedical Engineering
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2020


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