[ARTICLE] Upper Extremity Function Assessment Using a Glove Orthosis and Virtual Reality System – Full Text

Abstract

Hand motor control deficits following stroke can diminish the ability of patients to participate in daily activities. This study investigated the criterion validity of upper extremity (UE) performance measures automatically derived from sensor data during manual practice of simulated instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) within a virtual environment. A commercial glove orthosis was specially instrumented with motion tracking sensors to enable patients to interact, through functional UE movements, with a computer-generated virtual world using the SaeboVR software system. Fifteen stroke patients completed four virtual IADL practice sessions, as well as a battery of gold-standard assessments of UE motor and hand function. Statistical analysis using the nonparametric Spearman rank correlation reveals high and significant correlation between virtual world-derived measures and the gold-standard assessments. The results provide evidence that performance measures generated during manual interactions with a virtual environment can provide a valid indicator of UE motor status.

Introduction

Virtual world-based games, when combined with human motion sensing, can enable a neurorehabilitation patient to engage in realistic occupations that involve repetitive practice of functional tasks (). An important component of such a system is the ability to automatically track patient movements and use those data to produce indices related to movement quality (). Before these technology-derived measures can be considered relevant to clinical outcomes, criterion validity must be established. If validated, measures of virtual task performance may reasonably be interpreted as reflective of real-world functional status.

The objective of the study described in this article was to investigate the criterion validity of upper extremity (UE) performance measures automatically derived from sensor data collected during practice of simulated instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) in a virtual environment. A commercially available SaeboGlove orthosis () was specially instrumented to enable tracking of finger and thumb movements. This instrumented glove was employed with an enhanced version of the Kinect sensor-based SaeboVR software system () to enable employment of the hand, elbow, and shoulder in functional interactions with a virtual world. Performance measures were automatically generated during patient use through a combination of arm tracking data from the Kinect and the glove’s finger and thumb sensors. The primary investigational objective was to determine whether performance indices produced by this system for practice of virtual IADLs are valid indicators of a stroke patient’s UE motor status.

Previous investigations into combining hand tracking with video games to animate UE therapy have produced evidence for the efficacy of such interventions. A recent study compared a 15-session hand therapy intervention using a smart glove system and video games with a usual care regimen (). Stroke patients using the smart glove system realized greater gains in Wolf Motor Function Test (WMFT) score compared with dosage-balanced conventional therapy. Another study investigating a similar glove-based device found significantly greater improvements in Fugl-Meyer and Box and Blocks test results for stroke patients who performed 15 sessions that included the technology-aided therapy compared with subjects receiving traditional therapy only (). An instrumented glove has also been used to support video game therapy that incorporates gripping-like movements and thumb-finger opposition ().

Past research into the use of human motion tracking (sometimes referred to as motion capture) technologies for assessment of UE function has produced encouraging results. One group of researchers compared naturalistic point-to-point reaching movements with standardized reaching movements embedded in a virtual reality system, and established concurrent validity between the two (). An investigation involving a device that incorporates handgrip strength and pinch force measurement into virtual reality exercises provided support for system use as an objective evaluation of hand function, and for the potential of replacing conventional goniometry and dynamometry (). In another study, researchers employed a Kinect sensor in a software system that attempts to emulate a subset of the Fugl-Meyer Upper Extremity (FMUE) assessment (). Pearson correlation analysis between the Kinect-derived scores and traditionally administered FMUE test results for 41 hemiparetic stroke patients revealed a high correlation. Previous research involving the SaeboVR system established a moderate and statistically significant correlation between virtual IADL performance scores and the WMFT (). Due to limitations of the Kinect optical tracking system, this previous work involving the SaeboVR system did not include tracking of grasp-release manual interactions with virtual objects (). The present research addresses this limitation by fusing data from the Kinect sensor with data from finger- and wrist-mounted sensors on the SaeboGlove orthosis to reconstruct the kinematic pose of the patient’s UE.

The use of an assistive glove orthosis in the present work fills an important clinical need. Inability to bring the hand and wrist into a neutral position due to weakness and/or lack of finger extension can prevent participation in occupation-oriented functional practice (). A common technique to enable stroke patients to achieve a functional hand position (and thus participate in rehabilitation) is a dynamic splint that supports finger and/or wrist extension. When larger forces are necessary (e.g., to overcome abnormal muscle tone), an outrigger-type splint may be employed. For patients with no more than mild hypertonicity, a lower-profile device such as the SaeboGlove orthosis () can be used. Employment of an assistive glove orthosis in the context of virtual IADLs practice thus addresses some of the leading causes of hand motor control deficits following stroke and their adverse impact on ability to participate in daily activities ().

Method

Participants

Candidates were recruited from a population of stroke patients receiving in-patient rehabilitation care, outpatient rehabilitation, or who had been previously discharged from rehabilitative care at the UVA Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital (Charlottesville, VA, USA). Table 1 includes the study characteristics. Of 17 patients enrolled in the study, 15 completed the protocol. One subject dropped out due to unrelated illness. A second subject was disenrolled due to an inability to adequately express an understanding of consent during re-verification at the beginning of the first post-consent study session.

Table 1.

Patient Characteristics (n = 17).

Age, years, median (range) 67 (25-83)
Time since stroke onset in months, median (range) 12 (1-72)
Sex, M/F, n (%) 10 (59)/7 (41)
Race category, Black/White, n (%) 3 (18)/14 (82)
Ethnic category, Hispanic/non-Hispanic, n (%) 0 (0)/17 (100)
Side of hemiplegia, L/R, n (%) 10 (59)/7 (41)
Affected side dominance, dominant/nondominant, n (%) 9 (53)/8 (47)

All study activities were conducted under the auspices of the University of Virginia Institutional Review Board for Health Sciences Research (IRB-HSR). All study sessions took place in a private room within the UVA Encompass Health outpatient clinic between October 20, 2017, and February 9, 2018. Licensed Occupational Therapists trained in study procedures and registered with the IRB-HSR were responsible for all patient contact, recruitment, consent, and protocol administration.

Verification of inclusion/exclusion criteria was through a three-step process including an initial medical record review prior to recruitment, verbal confirmation prior to administration of consent, and an evaluation screen conducted by a study therapist following consent. Inclusion criteria included history of stroke with hemiplegia, ongoing stroke-related hand impairment, sufficient active finger flexion at the metacarpal phalangeal joint in at least one finger to be detected by visual observation by a study therapist, antigravity strength at the elbow to at least 45° of active flexion, antigravity shoulder strength to at least 30° each in active flexion and abduction/adduction, and 15° in active shoulder rotation from an upright seated position. Participants had visual acuity with corrective lenses of 20/50 or better and were able to understand and follow verbal directions. The study excluded patients with visual field deficit in either eye that would impair ability to view the computer monitor and/or with hemispatial neglect that would impair an individual’s ability to process and perceive visual stimuli. The study also excluded individuals with motor limb apraxia, significant muscle spasticity, or contractures of the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, or skin that would restrict normal UE movement.

Materials

A commercial SaeboGlove orthosis was fitted with wrist and finger motion sensors to permit tracking of finger joint angles during grasp-release interactions with a virtual environment. The instrumented glove orthosis is shown in Figure 1. The sensors were attached to the existing tensioner band hooks on the dorsal side of each glove finger. An electronics enclosure mounted to the palmar side of the SaeboGlove’s plastic wrist splint processes the sensor data and transmits information to a personal computer (PC) that hosts the modified SaeboVR software. Data from both the SaeboGlove-integrated sensors and from a Kinect sensor were used by a custom motion capture algorithm, which employs a human UE kinematics model to produce real-time estimates of arm, wrist, and finger joint angles.

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Figure 1.
SaeboGlove orthosis with sensors to track grasp interactions.

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