Open Access Open Badges Research

A “virtually minimal” visuo-haptic training of attention in severe traumatic brain injury

Assaf Y Dvorkin12*, Milan Ramaiya3, Eric B Larson12, Felise S Zollman12, Nancy Hsu1, Sonia Pacini1, Amit Shah3 and James L Patton123

Author Affiliations

1 Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 345 E. Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

2 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, USA

3 University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2013, 10:92  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-10-92

Published: 9 August 2013



Although common during the early stages of recovery from severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), attention deficits have been scarcely investigated. Encouraging evidence suggests beneficial effects of attention training in more chronic and higher functioning patients. Interactive technology may provide new opportunities for rehabilitation in inpatients who are earlier in their recovery.


We designed a “virtually minimal” approach using robot-rendered haptics in a virtual environment to train severely injured inpatients in the early stages of recovery to sustain attention to a visuo-motor task. 21 inpatients with severe TBI completed repetitive reaching toward targets that were both seen and felt. Patients were tested over two consecutive days, experiencing 3 conditions (no haptic feedback, a break-through force, and haptic nudge) in 12 successive, 4-minute blocks.


The interactive visuo-haptic environments were well-tolerated and engaging. Patients typically remained attentive to the task. However, patients exhibited attention loss both before (prolonged initiation) and during (pauses during motion) a movement. Compared to no haptic feedback, patients benefited from haptic nudge cues but not break-through forces. As training progressed, patients increased the number of targets acquired and spontaneously improved from one day to the next.


Interactive visuo-haptic environments could be beneficial for attention training for severe TBI patients in the early stages of recovery and warrants further and more prolonged clinical testing.

Virtual reality; Robotics; Attention; Rehabilitation; TBI