January 13, 2020

Assessing Various Sensorimotor and Cognitive Functions in People with Epilepsy is Feasible with Robotics

BACKGROUND: Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, along with comorbid cognitive and psychosocial impairment. Current gold standards of assessment can quantify cognitive and motor performance, but may not capture all subtleties of behavior. Here, this research team studies the feasibility of assessing various upper limb sensorimotor and cognition functions in people with epilepsy using the Kinarm robotic assessment system. The team quantifies performance across multiple behavioral domains and additionally consider the possible effects of epilepsy subtype and medication.

METHODS: The team recruited individuals with a variety of epilepsy subtypes. Participants performed 8 behavioral tasks that tested motor, cognitive, and sensory domains. They collected data on the same tasks from a group of control participants that had no known neurological impairments. The team then quantified performance using Task Scores, which provide a composite measure of overall performance on a given task and are adjusted for age, sex, and handedness.

RESULTS: Data was collected from 46 individuals with epilepsy and 92 control participants. The assessment was well-tolerated, with no adverse events recorded. Cognitive tasks testing spatial working memory, executive function, and motor response inhibition were the most frequently impaired in the epilepsy cohort, with 33/46 (72%) being outside the normal range on at least one of these tasks. Additionally, 29/46 (63%) were impaired on at least one task testing primarily motor skill, and 14/46 (30%) were impaired on a proprioceptive sensory task. People with either focal epilepsy or generalized epilepsy performed significantly worse on both motor and cognitive tasks than control participants after correcting for multiple comparisons. There were no statistical differences between generalized and focal epilepsy groups on Task Scores. Finally, individuals taking topiramate trended toward having worse performance on a spatial working memory task than other individuals with epilepsy who were not taking topiramate.

CONCLUSIONS: Kinarm robotic assessment is feasible in individuals with epilepsy and is well-tolerated. This robotic paradigm can detect impairments in various sensorimotor and cognitive functions across the population with epilepsy. Future studies will explore the role of epilepsy subtype and medications.

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