LSU Rehabilitating Stroke Patients Through Adaptive Guitar

BATON ROUGE, La. – A group of LSU faculty and students from kinesiology and engineering are creating and researching a music-based technique to help rehabilitate arm and hand movement after a stroke. Their work is personal.
“The initial idea came about from personal experience. I knew someone who was a guitar player before and they had a stroke and they had a thought of returning to the activity they really enjoyed doing before this,” said Nikita Kuznetsov, an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology. “There were some devices on the market that were targeted to that audience, but no one actually did any research on how people may use an adapted guitar instrument to improve movement after stroke.
“We know from scientific literature that music has a very strong potential to improve motor function and alter brain function in healthy people. Guitar is particularly interesting because it requires coordination of two arms to produce a rhythm and change chords. And I thought this would be a really nice area to go into: What happens to your brain and muscle coordination when you learn how to perform this very complex motor skill? Can we use music-based approaches to enhance clinical movement rehabilitation outcomes in stroke survivors? I actually wanted to purchase some of the adapted guitar devices that were on the market like Robotar, but they were not being sold anymore for some reason. So, we had to make our own,” Kuznetsov said.
Kuznetsov shared that idea with Hunter Gilbert, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering.
“We decided we needed to build our own prototype in order to facilitate this study. So, I worked with a team of undergraduates who are all at the senior level, pretty much in their last year of school in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering and this team, under my advisement, produced the initial prototype,” Gilbert said.
Their team created a device that is attached to the neck of the guitar, as part of their senior design project.
“It has servomotors on the inside, which can apply pressure to the strings of the guitar to fret the strings in any chord shape that you want. This device is capable of producing literally every chord that’s capable of being produced on a guitar,” Gilbert said.
James Kirsch, an LSU senior majoring in electrical engineering and robotics was part of the team that built the prototype. “Basically, we have programmed it so the user can step on a pedal and that sends a signal to the computer that runs the device, and depending on how you have it programmed to work it will send a signal to the servos and they will, depending on which chord you wanted, press down onto the strings and fret the chords,” Kirsch said.
Kuznetsov, along with undergraduate and graduate students majoring in kinesiology, are conducting the first phase of their study.
“We are testing the guitar with healthy, young adults here at LSU, to characterize motor learning skills and how people will actually interact with the device: we are testing specific hypotheses about changes in their motor behavior and coordination. We also want to make sure we fix all the bugs before trying it out with stroke survivors. We need to make sure we can get accurate measurements of the timing of the strumming pattern and the movements of the arm. The end goal is to apply it to individuals with chronic stroke disease in a pilot study and then enlarge the pilot study depending on the results. We are currently working on a grant submission to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of their “Sound Health” initiative to study how music could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life,” Kuznetsov said.
“I love it so far,” said Sarah Cherry, a freshman honors kinesiology major from Reno, Nevada. “I have family members who have gone through stroke rehabilitation, and it’s really cool to see that they’re trying to produce a kind of rehab that would be more enjoyable, I think, for patients then what they have going on right now. I help Dr. Kuznetsov run the project, bring in participants, set things up and everything like that. It’s really cool getting exposure to research as a freshman, because I know a lot of friends at other universities who haven’t been able to do that yet.”
“I like the music part of the project as well. I'm a musician, so I’ve always been sensitive to that,” said kinesiology graduate student Marcelline Dechenaud. “I’ve been working with the project’s research. I’ve been involved with some electronical adjustment, to put everything together, and some coding. And some analysis of the results as well.”
After this first phase, the guitar will be used and studied with patients at Baton Rouge General hospital.
Mary Malloy, music therapist at Baton Rouge General said, “We are amazed at what he has developed and excited to assist in his research. Guitar can be an especially challenging instrument, as two hands work in coordination doing different things to make music. Dr. Kuznetsov’s adaptive guitar will allow patients to learn and play guitar using one foot and one hand, strengthening their motor skills while developing new brain connections, improving emotional outlook and having fun.”
Arend Van Gemmert, acting associate dean for the College of Human Sciences and Education said, “In this case, the participants are actually learning an instrument and playing, so, that might help them with quality of life, because they are actually able to do something, while they are doing this and maybe enjoying it. That means they are training their fingers and hands and that is key for rehabilitation. When people have a stroke, it’s very difficult to use their hands; some experience paresis,” said
If you or anyone you know are interested in participating in the study, please contact Nikita Kuznetsov at




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