Research to Impact: Using interactive digital art to aid recovery from acquired brain injury

Associate Professor Jonathan Duckworth has designed an interactive arts-based rehabilitation tool to improve the rehabilitation of people affected by stroke or head injury.

Duckworth is an Associate Professor of Digital Design in the School of Design. A digital media artist and designer, Duckworth’s interest in using digital design for rehabilitation was initially sparked by an enquiry from a person recovering from traumatic brain injury who had heard about the use of virtual reality for rehabilitation in the United States. One in six people suffer from disabilities as a result of stroke or head trauma, and two-thirds of stroke survivors suffer a disability that impedes them in performing everyday activities without assistance.  

Duckworth teamed up with Professor Peter Wilson, an expert in motor development and rehabilitation at the Australian Catholic University, to explore how interactive digital tools might be used to support the rehabilitation of patients with acquired brain injury. They set out to develop a device that could be used by hospitals for rehabilitation, forming an interdisciplinary research team that included expertise in software engineering, occupational therapy and cognitive neuroscience.

The collaboration produced EDNA (Elements by Dynamic Neural Arts), a digital tabletop device on which patients with acquired brain injury can interact with fun and challenging therapeutic games and interactive arts activities. This playful digital experience is intended to maintain patient engagement, improve compliance and assist recovery. Patients move graspable objects of different shapes and textures across the touch-screen surface to complete a series of achievement-based activities. Each activity is designed to stimulate motor and neural recovery, helping patients re-learn object handling and placement skills essential in daily life.  Patients are then able to review their progress with their health providers.

Hands matching objects to on-screen shapes

“It has done a fantastic thing for me. As part of my rehab, it showed me the potential, it showed me what I could do. And I love playing games.” 

- EDNA Trial Participant

EDNA has received the  Victorian Premiers’ Design Award and the Good Design Award for Digital Design for innovation in health rehabilitation. Its effectiveness in aiding patient recovery has been demonstrated in clinical trials at Melbourne’s Epworth Hospital, the Evalina London Children’s Hospital, and a more extensive randomised control trial at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital. Both adult and child patients have been found to be more engaged and motivated in their rehabilitation, showing significant improvements in their movement skills and self-esteem.

It’s really novel, target based, and a very different form of therapy. For me it’s been a great benefit to monitor the patients’ performance and engagement with the technology online … I can serve a greater number of patients living at home in the community while I am in the office.

                                                                      - Karin Vogel, Occupational Therapist, Prince of Wales Hospital

RMIT’s Intellectual Property and Commercialisation team is working closely with Duckworth to bring EDNA to market.  Further engagement with healthcare providers has led to the development of a tablet-based application of EDNA that can be used by patients in their homes. This will support physiotherapists and occupational therapists in delivering rehabilitation programs remotely.  Performance data is collected in the cloud, allowing therapists to remotely view the data, monitor recovery and deliver tailored treatment programs.

EDNA is the first upper-limb brain injury rehabilitation system to integrate clinic and home therapy to monitor recovery, with great potential to transform the industry and improve outcomes for patients.

This research was supported by RMIT through the Design and Creative Practice Enabling Capability Platform and an Australian Government Accelerating Commercialisation grant.

For further information contact Associate Professor Jonathan Duckworth, School of Design.

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