A Robotic Solution to Strokes

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

— by Cate Stevenson, BA

A stroke is a condition where a blood clot or ruptured artery or blood vessel interrupts blood flow to an area of your brain. A lack of oxygen and glucose flowing to your brain leads to the death of brain cells and brain damage, often resulting in impairment in speech, movement and memory.

The outcome after a stroke depends on where the stroke occurs and how much of the brain is affected. Smaller strokes may result in minor problems, such as weakness in an arm or leg.

There are various therapeutic exercises that can help stroke victims recover. One such treatment that hasn’t been getting a lot of press yet simply because it’s new is the use of robotic aids.

According to a recent study, robotic aids can help stroke patients make small but significant improvements in their ability to move their limbs — and can help them feel better emotionally, too.

The study was performed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It included 127 veterans who had experienced a stroke that resulted in moderate to severe disability in an arm.

The veterans were divided into three groups: one group was assigned to upper-limb therapy aided by robots designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a second group participated in upper-limb exercises with a therapist; and a third group received general health care, but no special stroke therapy for their arm.

The research team found that the veterans who had the 12 weeks of therapy using the robotic device reported significant improvements in their quality of life, and greater improvements in their upper-limb function compared with those receiving usual care.

How did the robot therapy work? The veterans in the robot therapy group were seated at a table with their stroke-affected arm attached to a device, and were prompted to move a cursor on a screen. Here’s where the robot took over: it sensed if the veterans had trouble using the cursor and then helped with their movements. According to the researchers, when the robotic device helped with a veteran’s arm movements, the brain in turn, learned to compensate for the lost function caused by the stroke and begin to rewire itself!

The research team believes that by gaining more function and better control of their affected arms, stroke patients were able to get out and do more. Once more activities were added, social participation increased and quality of life improved.

The research team is particularly hopeful about the results of this trial, as they think that even stroke patients who have been living with chronic symptoms for some time can still achieve improvements in movement, everyday function and quality of life.

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