Background: Stroke can affect our ability to perform daily activities, although it can be difficult to identify the underlying functional impairment(s). Recent theories highlight the importance of sensory feedback in selecting future motor actions. This selection process can involve multiple processes to achieve a behavioural goal, including selective attention, feature/object recognition, and movement inhibition. These functions are often impaired after stroke, but existing clinical measures tend to explore these processes in isolation and without time constraints. We sought to characterize patterns of post-stroke impairments in a dynamic situation where individuals must identify and select spatial targets rapidly in a motor task engaging both arms. Impairments in generating rapid motor decisions and actions could guide functional rehabilitation targets, and identify potential of individuals to perform daily activities such as driving.
Methods: Subjects were assessed in a robotic exoskeleton. Subjects used virtual paddles attached to their hands to hit away 200 virtual target objects falling towards them while avoiding 100 virtual distractors. The inclusion of distractor objects required subjects to rapidly assess objects located across the workspace and make motor decisions about which objects to hit.
Results: As many as 78 % of the 157 subjects with subacute stroke had impairments in individual global, spatial, temporal, or hand-specific task parameters relative to the 95 % performance bounds for 309 non-disabled control subjects. Subjects with stroke and neglect (Behavioural Inattention Test score <130; n = 28) were more often impaired in task parameters than other subjects with stroke. Approximately half of subjects with stroke hit proportionally more distractor objects than 95 % of controls, suggesting they had difficulty in attending to and selecting appropriate objects. This impairment was observed for affected and unaffected limbs including some whose motor performance was comparable to controls. The proportion of distractors hit also significantly correlated with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment scores for subjects with stroke (r s < = - 0.48, P < 10-9).
Conclusions: A simple robot-based task identified that many subjects with stroke have impairments in the rapid selection and generation of motor responses to task specific spatial goals in the workspace.
Keywords: Assessment; Attention; Cognitive impairments; Inhibition; Neglect; Stroke.