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Robot workout for stroke sufferers

The "Anklebot" helps stroke sufferers regain lower body movement.





Baltimore (Maryland)
Technology (general)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- MIT scientists are hoping to create a "workout area" for stroke sufferers that incorporates smart therapeutic robots to help patients regain movement of their bodies.

The researchers have recently created a robot, dubbed "Anklebot," which helps stroke sufferers regain movement in their ankles.

The robot is in use at the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center, and marks a significant advance in therapeutic robotics from research to practice, the researchers say.

They say a gym of robots will be the next development and will see machines target different parts of the body to significantly improve stroke patients' movement in arms, wrists, hands, legs and ankles.

"It appears that we are at the cusp of a revolution in the way rehabilitation medicine is practiced, and therapeutic robotics is at center stage," said Hermano Igo Krebs, a principal research scientist in mechanical engineering at MIT.

Also in operation at the Baltimore Center is the "MIT-Manus" robot, which has been proven in clinical trials to help stroke patients regain movement of their arms.

During therapy, a stroke sufferer sits at a table with the patient's lower arm in a brace attached to the arm of the robot.

A video screen prompts the patient to perform an arm exercise such as connecting a series of dots or drawing hands on a clock. If movement does not occur, the robot moves the person's arm.

If the patient initiates movement, the robot provides adjustable levels of guidance and assistance to facilitate the person's arm movement.

In the first clinical trial of the robot, researchers found that stroke patients who used the machine four to five hours a week improved faster than those who did not receive robot-assisted therapy.

The research, carried out during the past decade, concluded that manual manipulation of a stroke victim's disabled limb aids recovery of use of that limb.

"There had been a great deal of intuitive belief that this works, but our research provided conclusive objective evidence," MIT professor Neville Hogan said.

Most stroke patients require therapy for problems with language, memory or movement. Hogan said the new robotics center would enable scientists to speed up research into the benefits of robots.

"This heralds a transition of therapeutic robotics from research to practice, similar to when computers went from being specialized number-crunchers for engineering and science to the ubiquitous consumer appliances for word-processing and presentation that we use today," he said.

The "Anklebot" works in the same way as the MIT-Manus arm robot but targets movement of a paralyzed ankle. It also can improve balance.

Researchers are creating other machines focusing on different parts of the body, including one to improve movement of shoulders and elbows, one for wrists and one for hands.

Dr. Richard Macko of the Baltimore VA Medical Center said doctors expected the number of people suffering from strokes to double during the next 20 to 30 years as baby boomers age.

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