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Computer games to support arm rehabilitation after stroke

School of Health and Life Sciences

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Dr K Thomson , Dr D Knox , Prof F van Wijck Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Project reference number: SHLS19012

Stroke is one of the most common causes of disability across the world. Up to 80% of acute stroke patients experience loss of arm function, including loss of strength, coordination and manual dexterity, which can make daily activities such as self-care and food preparation difficult. In turn, these difficulties may affect autonomy, self-esteem, mood and quality of life. In a considerable proportion of stroke survivors, arm impairment persists after formal rehabilitation has ceased. The potential for recovery after stroke persists, but requires dedicated, intensive functional training. This can be difficult for stroke survivors to commit to, e.g. due to fatigue, shoulder pain, depression or lack of support.

Recent years have seen an increase in evidence supporting the use of commercial games to improve arm function after stroke (Thomson et al., 2014). This approach has considerable potential to improve arm function by increasing engagement with activities at home, providing a low-cost adjunct to formal rehabilitation and utilising inexpensive off the shelf game technology that is easily available. However, most commercial games have not been designed for people with complex disabilities and would require considerable adaptation for use in the home. Additionally, there is now a significant body of music psychology research demonstrating the benefits of preferred music listening upon a range of factors related to health and wellbeing. Specifically, research has demonstrated the benefits of rhythmic auditory stimulation integrated with repetitive task practice on arm function in stroke survivors - i.e. the synchronisation of movement with an audible rhythm (van Wijck et al., 2012).

At GCU, we have developed a bespoke prototype music game, which integrates the principles of rhythmic auditory stimulation with repetitive practice, based on individuals’ preferred music. This game, which uses off-the-shelf technology, has been specifically designed for stroke survivors with a range of impairments (including arm motor, visual and cognitive impairments) (Averell & Knox, 2019).

The overall aim of this PhD project is to further develop this prototype to optimise its therapeutic potential and usability by considering design requirements from stakeholders (i.e. stroke survivors and carers, and health professionals such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists).

This PhD project comprises three main objectives, which could translate into three stages of the project. Based on the applicant’s skills, interest and experience, and in discussion with the supervisory team, these objectives could comprise:
1. To conduct a systematic review of the scientific literature to establish the effects and experiences of music-based gaming to support arm rehabilitation after stroke.
2. To further develop, together with specialist engineers in audio-technology, a prototype music-based game, through involvement of stroke survivors and carers, and health professionals.
3. To conduct a feasibility study using the prototype developed, to explore its feasibility, acceptability and preliminary outcomes in preparation for a randomised controlled trial.

The successful applicant will be a qualified Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Music Therapist, holding the minimum of a first degree (2:1 or above). An interest in the topic area of games for health, and previous experience of mixed methods or qualitative research methodology is desirable.
Candidates are requested to submit a detailed research proposal (of a maximum of 2000 words) on the project area as part of their application.

Research Strategy and Research Profile
Glasgow Caledonian University’s research is framed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We address the Goals via three societal challenge areas of Inclusive Societies, Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments. This project is part of the research activity of the Research Group Living with stroke and other long term neurological conditions

How to Apply
This project is available as a 3 year full-time PhD study programme with a start date of 1st October 2019
For information on how to apply and the online application form please go to
Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview.

Funding Notes


Averell, E. and Knox, D. 2019. A Rhythm-Based Game for Stroke Rehabilitation. 2019 Audio Engineering Society International Conference on Immersive and Interactive Audio. March 27-29, 2019. York, UK
Thomson, K., Pollock, A., Bugge, C., Brady, M.A. 2014. Commercial gaming devices for stroke upper limb rehabilitation: a systematic review. International Journal of Stroke, 9:4, 479-488
Thomson, K., Pollock, A., Bugge, C., Brady, M.A. 2016. Commercial gaming devices for stroke upper limb rehabilitation: a survey of current practice. Disability & Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 11:6,454-461.
van Wijck, F., Knox, D., Dodds, C., Cassidy, G., Alexander, G., & MacDonald, R. 2012. Making music after stroke: using musical activities to enhance arm function. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252(1), 305-311.

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