Stroke patients usually suffer primary cognitive impairment related to attention, memory, and executive functions. This impairment causes a negative impact on the quality of life of patients and their families, and may be long term. Cognitive rehabilitation has been shown to be an effective way to treat cognitive impairment and should be continued after hospital discharge. Computerized cognitive rehabilitation can be performed at home using exercise programs that advance with predetermined course content, interval, and pace. We hypothesize that computerized rehabilitation might be improved if a program could customize course content and pace in response to patient-specific progress. The present pilot study is a randomized controlled double-blind crossover clinical trial aiming to study if chronic stroke patients with cognitive impairment could benefit from cognitive training through a customized tele-rehabilitation platform (“Guttmann, NeuroPersonalTrainer”®, GNPT®).
Individuals with chronic-stage stroke will be recruited. Participants will be randomized to receive experimental intervention (customized tele-rehabilitation platform, GNPT®) or sham intervention (ictus.online), both with the same frequency and duration (five sessions per week over 6 weeks). After a washout period of 3 months, crossover will occur and participants from the GNPT® condition will receive sham intervention, while participants originally from the sham intervention will receive GNPT®. Patients will be assessed before and after receiving each treatment regimen with an exhaustive neuropsychological battery. Primary outcomes will include rating measures that assess attention difficulties, memory failures, and executive dysfunction for daily activities, as well as performance-based measures of attention, memory, and executive functions.
Customized cognitive training could lead to better cognitive function in patients with chronic-stage stroke and improve their quality of life.
Stroke, the most common cerebrovascular disease, is a focal neurological disorder of abrupt development due to a pathological process in blood vessels . There are three main types of stroke, namely transient ischemic attack, characterized by a loss of blood flow in the brain and which reverts in less than 24 h without associated acute infarction ; ischemic stroke, characterized by a lack of blood reaching part of the brain due to the obstruction of blood vessels and causing tissue damage (infarction), wherein cells die in the immediate area and those surrounding the infarction area are at risk; and a hemorrhagic stroke, where either a brain aneurysm bursts or a weakened blood vessel leaks, resulting in blood spillage into or around the brain, creating swelling and pressure, and damaging cells and tissue in the brain .
In 2013, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study, worldwide, there were 11–15 million people affected by stroke and almost 1.5 million deaths from this cerebrovascular disease [4, 5]. Moreover, in 2013, the total Disability-Adjusted Life Years (years of healthy life lost while living with a poor health condition) from all strokes was 51,429,440. In Spain, in 2011, the National Institute of Statistics reported 116,017 cases of stroke, corresponding to an incidence of 252 episodes per 100,000 inhabitants . Although stroke incidence increases with advancing age, adults aged 20–64 years comprise 31% of the total global incidence.
Stroke often results in cognitive dysfunction, and medical treatment may cause great expense on a personal, family, economic, and social level. Depending on the area of the brain affected and the severity of lesions, stroke patients may suffer cognitive impairment, and alteration in emotional and behavioral regulation . Generally, cognitive impairment derived from stroke includes alterations in attention, memory, and executive function .
Recent reports have begun to show positive results from the use of computerized cognitive rehabilitation systems (CCRS) for stroke patients to improve attention, memory, and executive functions. Nevertheless, more research is needed to better control variables and improve training designs in order to reduce heterogeneity and increase control of the intensity and level of performance during treatments [9, 10, 11, 12].
CCRS allow adjustment of the type of exercises administered to the specific cognitive impairment profile of each patient, but within a fixed set of possible exercises such that heterogeneity of therapy choice is minimized. This can improve studies by allowing better categorization of patient groups that execute similar training sessions in a similar range of responses . Further, CCRS offers the possibility of applying cognitive rehabilitation at home, while patient adherence and performance can be monitored online, so that patients do not need to live near, lodge near, or travel to a rehabilitation center to receive therapy. Because CCRS therapy is entirely digitized, it generates objective data that can be analyzed to determine the relative effectiveness of these interventions. We hypothesize that by allowing a trained professional to oversee an automated customization program that stratifies the level of difficulty, duration, and stimulus speed of presentation, we will reduce the heterogeneity of traditional cognitive training and improve the efficacy of intervention in chronic stroke patients.
The first objective of this pilot study is to assess if chronic stroke patients with cognitive impairment could benefit from cognitive training through a customized tele-rehabilitation platform (“Guttmann, NeuroPersonalTrainer”®, GNPT ® )  intended to increase the control of experimental variables (cognitive impairment profile, adherence, and performance) traditionally identified as a source of experimental heterogeneity. The study aims to assess if this benefit could translate into an improvement of the trained cognitive domains (attention, memory, and executive functions).
The second objective is focused on generalization, namely the ability to use what has been learned in rehabilitation contexts and apply it in different environments . Transfer of learning is included within the concept of generalization when specifically referring to the ability to apply specific strategies to related tasks . Two types of transfer have been proposed – near transfer and far transfer . By near transfer we mean that, through the training of a task within a given cognitive domain, improved function in other similar, untrained tasks may be observed in the same cognitive domain. For instance, a patient who performs selective attention exercises and improves execution through the training might improve their performance in other selective attention exercises too. By far transfer we mean that training in a given cognitive domain may improve performance of tasks in other cognitive domains. Such improvement will be observable in tasks that are structurally dissimilar from the ones used in the training. For instance, if a patient performs selective attention exercises, they may also improve their performance in memory tasks.
It has been demonstrated that computerized cognitive training can lead to the phenomenon of transfer, as previously studied in stroke patients . Thus, our research aims to note whether the application of patient-customized tele-rehabilitation can give rise to an improvement in other functions that are based on cognitive domains related to those that have been trained (near transfer) as well as in different ones (far transfer).
Finally, the third objective is to assess the variables of demography (age, sex, years of education) and etiology (ischemic stroke or hemorrhage) and their impact on rehabilitation outcome, given the need to understand the patient characteristics that may influence treatment effectiveness .[…]