Background: Upper limb impairment is a common problem for people with neurological disabilities, affecting activity, performance, quality of life and independence. Accurate, timely assessments are required for effective rehabilitation, and development of novel interventions. International consensus on upper limb assessment is needed to make research findings be more meaningful, provide a benchmark for quality in clinical practice, more cost-effective neurorehabilitation and improved outcomes for neurological patients undergoing rehabilitation.
Aim: To conduct a systematic review, as part of the output of a European COST Action, to identify what recommendations are made for upper limb assessment.
Methods: We systematically reviewed published guidance on measures and protocols for assessing upper limb function in neurological rehabilitation via electronic databases from January 2007 – December 2017. Additional records were then identified through other sources. Records were selected for inclusion based on scanning of titles, abstracts and full text by two authors working independently, and a third author if there was disagreement. Records were included if they referred to ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘assessment’ or ‘measurement’. Reasons for exclusion were documented.
Results: From the initial 552 records identified (after duplicates were removed), 34 satisfied our criteria for inclusion and only six recommended specific outcome measures and /or protocols. Records were divided into National Guidelines and other practice guidelines published in peer reviewed Journals. There was agreement that assessment is critical, should be conducted early and at regular intervals and that there is a need for standardised measures. Assessments should be conducted by a healthcare professional trained in using the measure and should encompass body function and structure, activity and participation.
Conclusions: We present a comprehensive, critical and original summary of current recommendations. Defining a core set of measures and agreed protocols requires international consensus between experts representing the diverse and multi-disciplinary field of neurorehabilitation including clinical researchers and practitioners, rehabilitation technology researchers and commercial developers. Current lack of guidance may hold-back progress in understanding function and recovery. Together with a Delphi consensus study and an overview of systematic reviews of outcome measures it will contribute to the development of international guidelines for upper limb assessment in neurological conditions.