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Rehab Strategies for Amputees with Chronic, Dominant Hand Loss May Also Benefit Stroke Patients

Researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) have developed new rehabilitation techniques for individuals suffering from stroke or amputation. According to a University of Missouri-Columbia news release, when use of a dominant hand is lost by amputation or stroke, a patient is forced to compensate by using the non-dominant hand for precision tasks. Presently, the behavioral and neurological effects of forced use of the non-dominant hand are reportedly understudied. As such, the research team has shed light on the ways in which a patient compensates when losing a dominant hand.

Scott Frey, PhD, professor and director of the Brain Imaging Center at MU, explains, “Our project analyzed the consequences of losing your dominant hand and how behaviors change for amputees. We also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain function in people adapting to those situations. Our hope is that by studying how amputees cope in these circumstances, we can help improve rehabilitation methods and quality of life in patients facing this loss.”

In the study, amputees forced to use non-dominant hands performed simple drawing tests and were checked for speed and accuracy. The researchers found that individuals who were forced to compensate with their non-dominant left hands actually performed precision tasks as well as the control group did with their dominant right hands, according to the MU-Columbia news release. The research team also found that the areas formerly devoted to motor and sensory recovery functions of the amputated hand actually contributed to compensation for the loss on the non-dominant side.

Frey states, “This compensatory reorganization raises the hope that, through targeted training, non-dominant hand functions can be vastly improved, enabling a better quality of life for those who have lost dominant hand functions due to bodily or brain injury or disease.”

Frey suggests that this research on amputees may inform rehabilitation of stroke patients who do not regain precision control of the dominant hand during the acute and subacute phases of recovery, as indicated on the MU-Columbia news release.

[Source: University of Missouri-Columbia]