Objective: We used the KINARM robot to quantify impairments in cognitive and upper-limb sensorimotor performance in a cohort of people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We sought to study the feasibility of using this technology for ALS research, to quantify patterns of impairments in individuals living with ALS, and elucidate correlations between robotic and traditional clinical behavioral measures.
Methods: Participants completed robot-based behavioral tasks testing sensorimotor, cognitive, and proprioceptive performance. Performance on robotic tasks was normalized to a large healthy control cohort (no neurological impairments), adjusted for age. Task impairment was defined as performance outside the 95% range of controls. Traditional clinical tests included: Frontal Assessment Battery (FAB), ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised (ALSFRS-R), and Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).
Results: Seventeen people with ALS were assessed. Two participants reported pain or discomfort from the robot's seat and 2 others reported discomfort from arm position during the assessment (both rectified and did not affect exam completion). Participants were able to perform the majority of the robotic tasks, although 9 participants were unable to complete 1 or more tasks. Between 20 and 69% of participants displayed sensorimotor impairments; 19 and 69% displayed cognitive task impairments; 25% displayed proprioceptive impairments. MoCA was impaired in 9/17 participants; 10/17 had impaired performance on FAB. MoCA and FAB correlated well with robot-based measures of cognition.
Conclusion: Use of robotic assessment is generally feasible for people with ALS. Individuals with ALS have sensorimotor impairments as expected, and some demonstrate substantial cognitive impairments.