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How Robotics Can Help Speed Up Post-Stroke Rehabilitation

Robotics can help the therapist put the partially paralysed stroke patient’s thoughts and intentions back in the driver’s seat

In the United States alone, about 795,000 people suffer strokes each year, leading to varying degrees of paralysis. Post-stroke rehabilitation has come a long way in recent decades and one area of focus is robotic-assisted rehabilitation for both the upper and the lower body.

That’s partly a medical issue and an economic one. As Physiopedia explains, It is used to supplement or facilitate rehabilitation by assisting in the repetitive labor-intensive manual therapy that is normally administered by therapists. This decreases the time demands on therapists as the robotic devices can help move the patient’s limbs during exercises, thereby increasing the amount of therapy for each patient and increasing the number of patients undergoing therapy simultaneously.”

Here’s a demonstration of a robotic gait trainer for lower body damage:

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), “The advantage of robot devices over rehabilitation exercises guided only by a therapist is that the robot device ensures that the movement is repeated in exactly the same way each time, training the brain to enable muscles to carry out the movements alone. Repetitions per session are also generally higher with robot-assisted rehabilitation. The robots collect data on the patient’s performance, enabling therapists and doctors to assess progress accurately.” Research seems to support the value of this approach.

Similarly, with upper body rehabilitation, the robot’s efforts diminish in response to the patient’s gain in strength: ““If the patient can only do 1% of the movement, the robot will do 99%, and then the patient will progress, and less and less the robot will assist,” said Dr. Erik Dusseux, CEO and director of BIONIK, in an interview with Robotics Business Review. “The robot can even be put into resistive mode, and amplify the deviation so the patient improves more and more. It’s really adapting to the needs of the patient.”” (Robotics Business Review, February 22, 2019)

It’s not always a big machine. A soft robotic glove can help stroke survivors with hand impairment do stretching exercises at home.

A 2022 paper found,

Considering data from previous studies and patients’ needs in gait and balance control, we hypothesized that robot-assisted balance treatment associated with physical therapy may be more effective than usual therapy performed by a physical therapist in terms of improving static, dynamic balance and gait, on fatigue and cognitive performance… Robotic assessment to identify the most appropriate and individualized rehabilitation treatment may allow reducing disability and improving quality of life in the frail population.

Giovannini, S., Iacovelli, C., Brau, F. et al. Robotic-Assisted Rehabilitation for balance and gait in Stroke patients (ROAR-S): study protocol for a preliminary randomized controlled trial. Trials 23, 872 (2022). The paper is open access.

Robotics leverages the power of the machine to perform, unwearied, the many hours of rote tasks required for success, alongside the therapist’s care, monitoring, and encouragement.

Note how the video below emphasizes the importance of thought in controlling action. Essentially, the rehabilitation staff are trying to put the patient’s thoughts and intentions back in the driver’s seat:

You may also wish to read: Bionic hands? Not an improvement on mechanical hooks!, says user. Right now, says a woman born without a left hand, electronic prostheses don’t function as well as mechanical extensions. The bionics researcher is pitting electronics against — not only living nature — but also non-living nature co-opted by living nature. Can electronics compete?

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How Robotics Can Help Speed Up Post-Stroke Rehabilitation