Rehab Robots for Stroke

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Robot-assisted therapy offers many benefits for stroke patients with a weaker arm, according to a new study, which is the first to use accelerometers to track improvement in patients and compare real world results.

Researchers enrolled 20 patients to compare robot-assisted therapy combined with functional training to an active control treatment group. They had patients wear accelerometers on both arms daily as they went about their normal tasks.

During the study, both groups received intensive training for 90 to 105 minutes per session, five days a week for four weeks. Therapy in the control group was designed to match the robot-assisted therapy in amount of therapy hours, and these participants served as a dose-matched comparison group.

Results showed robot-assisted therapy, when combined with functional task training, helps functional arm use and improves bimanual arm activity in daily life. Robots have previously been shown to improve arm motor function and muscle strength during rehabilitation, but some studies suggested these improvements did not continue in patients’ everyday lives. This new study addressed these issues.

The rehab robots give sensorimotor feedback during training sessions to facilitate patients’ motor learning. Researchers say because robots never become tired, they can provide massive and intense training in a consistent manner without suffering fatigue.

The investigators also found accelerometers are suitable tools for measuring real world arm activity in stroke patients. These devices provide objective information about physical activity by measuring the acceleration of body movements. Stroke patients can wear accelerometers like a wristwatch on each arm.

“In this study of rehabilitation approaches for patients with mild-to-moderate upper limb impairment six months after a stroke, we found significantly greater benefits of robot-assisted therapy compared with the active control group on the amount and quality of functional arm activity for the hemiplegic hand in the living environment,” Keh-chung Lin, from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Taipei Hospital, was quoted as saying. “Moreover, robot-assisted therapy had superior benefits on improving bimanual arm activity.”

SOURCE: Clinical Rehabilitation, August 11, 2011

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