A Nova Scotia researcher has received a $148,000 grant to develop an app that could make it possible for stroke victims to recover mostly at home with only a limited amount of time spent in hospital clinics.

Anne Sophie Champod, an assistant professor of psychology at Acadia University, has developed a treatment for a neurological condition that commonly follows a stroke, known as spatial neglect.

It occurs among the majority of people who suffer a stroke affecting the right side of the brain, she said, noting that while the patient does not lose the ability to see, it effectively causes an imbalance in the way they see.  

'Debilitating condition'

"Patients with spatial neglect will have difficulty paying attention to the left side of their world, left side of their environment, the left side of their bodies. It's a very debilitating condition," said Champod.

Prism goggles help stroke patients

An app developed at Acadia University calls for the user to wear prism goggles while viewing an image on an iPad. The treatment is expected to be an effective therapy for stroke patients suffering from a condition known as spatial neglect. (Anne Sophie Champod/Acadia University)

"It makes a lot of simple activities difficult to do; things like driving, which can become very dangerous if you're not paying attention to the left side of the world. It's a condition that will result in reduced independence in daily activities like eating, dressing, walking and so forth."

Current treatment for spatial neglect requires hours of daily clinical work under constant supervision. It tends to "use up a lot of resources in our health-care system," said Champod.

But the app she has developed, based on a method known as prism adaptation, is designed for home use following a session of instruction at the clinic.

Prism goggles

The technique calls for the stroke patient to wear prism goggles. 

"These are goggles that will shift the visual field to the right. What happens is that patients have to put on these prism goggles and then they have to interact with the environment," she said.

Using the app, patient wearing the goggles will practise pointing toward targets on a screen. But it's tougher than it sounds.

Peg the Mole

This is one of the images seen on an iPad by the wearer of the prism goggles. (Acadia University/Anne Sophie Champod)

"Because the visual field is shifted to the right, patients have to learn to compensate, by pointing more to the left," said Champod. 

"Because patients with spatial neglect have their attention bias to the right, what prism adaptation does is recentre their attention after treatment."

Champod said the therapy has already proven successful on healthy participants by prompting a  "leftward shift in attention."

She said she's confident the therapy will be implemented following a series of clinical trials on patients in Halifax with a colleague from Dalhousie University.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton