The sensational hand. Clinical assessment after nerve repair
Abstract: Following the transection and repair of major nerve trunks in the forearm, the functional outcome is influenced by mechanisms in the peripheral, as well as in the central nervous system. In the present thesis the interest is focused on assessment of the outcome after nerve repair, central nervous factors influencing the outcome, and sense substitution to compensate for sensory loss. A new model instrument for routine documentation of the outcome after repair of a peripheral nerve is identified. The model includes assessments reflecting sensory, motor and pain/discomfort domains. Investigations of frequently used assessment instruments led to the construction and evaluation of a new test instrument for assessment of discriminative sensibility (tactile gnosis) to fit in the model. The summarised outcome, calculated from the model instrument and with a numerical scoring system, conforms well with the patient´s opinion on the influence on activities of daily living resulting from the nerve injury, and demonstrates good reliability and validity. A reference interval for the outcome is presented, with the estimated 95% predicted values for the outcome up to five years after the nerve repair. Brain plasticity is a factor of importance for functional sensibility—tactile gnosis—in the adaptive process after a nerve injury, when the mind has to interpret new signal patterns, when objects are touched. For better understanding of the sensory outcome after nerve repair, central nervous factors were examined. Specific cognitive capacities, such as verbal learning and visuo-spatial logic capacity could be identified as being of importance for recovery of tactile gnosis. For patients with temporarily or permanently sensory loss, a new principle for artificial sensibility based on sense substitution is presented. The hearing sense substitutes the sense of touch. The resemblance in perceptual experience between sound and touch is bridged by the stereophonic friction sound generated by touching objects, which is then amplified and transmitted to earphones. The delicate capacity of the sense of hearing to discriminate between the complex pattern of frequencies makes it reasonable to assume that hearing is able to take over functions normally devoted to touch. This is demonstrated in the thesis.
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