More MS news articles for Feb 2002

Robot helps long-time stroke patients recover

Feb 08, 2002
By Martha Kerr
SAN ANTONIO, Reuters Health

Stroke symptoms that linger for months or years after leaving the hospital are thought to be very difficult to treat. Now new study findings suggest that a robot developed by Boston researchers may help patients who are still experiencing problems as much as 5 years after having a stroke.

A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital developed MIT-Manus, a 30-inch robot that clips to a tabletop and comes with a computer screen. The stroke patient's arm is strapped to the robot's arm and movement of the shoulder and elbow cause a cursor on the screen to move. The robot exercises the patient's arm much as a physical therapist might do and helps restore mobility to shoulders and elbows left paralyzed by the stroke.

Occupational therapist and mechanical engineer Dr. Susan E. Fasoli first found patients could be helped if they used the robot just after they left the hospital. Rehabilitation is thought to be most effective at this point. In general, as the years pass, hopes of further recovery of strength and mobility may fade for the stroke patient.

However, Fasoli told attendees of the American Stroke Association's 27th International Stroke Conference here Friday morning that MIT-Manus has also helped patients whose strokes are as long-term as 5 years to continue to improve.

Fasoli and colleagues used robot rehabilitation in 20 patients who had a stroke 1 to 5 years earlier. The strokes had left the patients with moderate to severe impairments, enough so that they were unable to perform basic self-care tasks. Patients underwent passive, active and resistive exercises with MIT-Manus for three 1-hour sessions a week for 6 weeks.

"There was a small but statistically significant improvement in their ability to move their shoulders and elbows," Fasoli told Reuters Health. "We're now trying to understand how repetitive exercise reduces motor impairment after stroke."

Fasoli reported that there was a 5% improvement in strength and mobility in the long-term stroke patients after 6 weeks. Similar robot rehab programs for patients with recent strokes resulted in 10% improvements in strength and mobility--and those improvements have persisted for up to 3 years now, even after only 4 to 6 weeks of robot therapy.

The Boston team is in the process of developing robots that can exercise the wrist and hand.

Fasoli noted that the approach has great potential for the treatment of patients with brain injury, multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited