Amputees may learn to use prostheses better if they are taught by fellow amputees

Rather than watching demonstrations performed by non-amputees, an article recently published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair indicates upper limb amputees may learn how to use a new prosthesis better if they are taught by other amputees.

“Those who watched a matched-limb participant did significantly better after 3 days of training,” study leader Lewis Wheaton, stated in a press release. “Their arm movements were more consistent and fluid when they repeated the task. Those who only watched someone without a prosthesis didn’t improve at all.”

For their study, Wheaton, an associate professor and director of the Cognitive Motor Control Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technologies, and colleagues measured arm movements and analyzed brain patterns. According to the release, they found people learn better when taught by others who look similar to them.

“We wanted to see if there was something we could improve in therapy that helps amputees — something to refresh the rehabilitation,” Wheaton stated in the release. “If people with a prosthesis cannot figure it out in the first 3 days, they tend to give up.”

Study participants with a prosthesis were given the task to turn over a block.

Source: Georgia Tech


During the study, non-amputee participants used an elbow-to-hand split hook prosthesis with movement sensors embedded onto the elbow and wore an electroencephalogram cap on their heads. On the first day, participants were asked to perform various tasks with the device, such as rotating a block, flipping a spatula and writing. For the following 3 days, they watched videos of someone who either wore the same device or did not while they demonstrated the same tasks. At 5 days, the participants performed the original tasks again.

After 3 days, participants who watched a matched-limb participant performed better. However, investigators found participants who watched a demonstrator without a prosthesis did not improve. The study also showed areas of the brain concerned with motor planning were most active in the group that watched videos with demonstrators who wore a prosthesis, while the visual areas of the brain were most active among those who watched able-bodied demonstrators.  

“When amputees watch someone without a prosthesis, it seems that their brain is more concerned with what it is seeing, rather than concentrating on how to actually do the task,” Wheaton stated in the release. His group is now repeating the study with amputee participants.

Reference: Wheaton L, et al. Neurorehabil Neuro Repair. 2015; doi: 10.1177/1545968315606992.

Disclosure: Wheaton reports the study is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2009 Pre-Doctoral Prosthetics and Orthotics Research Fellowship Program and NIH National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research T32 Award (#5T32HD055180-03).

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