Robots Can Help Stroke Patients

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • I was watching “I Robot” with my son the other day.  It’s not a new movie, but one we’ve owned for awhile.  It always creeps me out though.  I’m not sure I like the idea of living among robots like that.  But then I realized we already do.  In fact, I’ve done several stories about bomb scares, where bomb teams use robots to search areas.  I’ve done other stories where doctors use robotics during some surgeries and out-patient procedures.  After a little research, I finally met Howard.  I figured fellow stroke survivors would like to know him too.

    Howard is a robot who lends a helping hand to people after they have suffered a stroke.  Researchers developed Howard, a Hand-Wrist Assisting Robotic Device, to monitor and aid patients as they grasp and release common objects.  A pilot study using Howard was conducted using seven women and six men, all at an average age of 63.  None of the patients were paralyzed, but all suffered at least moderate residual weakness and reduced function of the right hand.

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    All worked with Howard for 15, two-hour therapy session over a three week period.  Howard shaped and helped complete the movements for seven of the patients during all sessions, while six of the patients needed complete support from the robot during the second half of the sessions.  At the end of the three weeks, all patients had improved in their ability to grasp and release objects.

    “The therapy isn’t passive; the brain has to jumpstart the program and initiate the motor command,” said Steven C. Cramer, M.D., lead author of the study at the University of California, Irvine. “But if the hand is weak and can only budge one-tenth of an inch, the robot helps to complete the task so the brain relearns what it’s like to make the full movement.”

    During my six months of therapy, I never had the opportunity to use a device so high-tech.  I remember how frustrating it is, though, to try so hard to move my right arm.  It took months to retrain my brain.  Something like Howard would be so much more beneficial to stroke survivors, helping them in a matter of weeks.

Published On: April 10, 2007