Robots could aid stroke patients

Coming back from a stroke is an uphill battle for both the patient and those providing him or her with elder care. Not only does the sufferer have to deal with overcoming the physical and neurological damages of the episode, but they must also learn to cope with other problems that can arise including depression, or dealing with the loss of independence. Family members might assume they know exactly what their loved one needs following a stroke, but new study involving robots proves having more hands on deck may encourage a person to recover at a faster rate.

The recent study conducted by scientists from the University of Calgary has found therapy robots helped identify and customize post-stroke therapy on a case-by-case basis. The findings may be useful for home health care professionals and family caregivers down the line, as the robots may be able to help figure out exactly what a specific person needs.

During trials researchers looked at 187 patients - 87 were recovering from a stroke and 98 seemed unaffected by their stroke. Researchers used the robots to measure each participant's sense of limb position, as well as their speed and direction of limb movements. All were assessed 15 days following their strokes. Limb awareness has long been an important indicator of how well a person will recover after stroke. Up until this study, physical therapists and specialists had to use their judgment and subjective rating scales to assess impairment.

From the data scientists found, the robots' assessments helped to figure out better limb impairments over traditional options. Seventy percent of stroke patients took longer to react to the robot's movements, while 78 percent of stroke patients had "significantly impaired" sense of movement and direction. Nearly 70 percent of all patients had diminished ability to match movement speed.

"For years, therapists have known that limb awareness is very important to predicting a person's outcomes after stroke. Yet we have never before been able to quantify it," said Dr. Sean Dukelow, lead author of the study. "Identifying these deficits opens the door to the next step: how do we treat it?"

Finding new methods for accurately treating stroke patients post-episode is crucial to allowing the patient to get back on their feet, especially since strokes are so prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a person in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, equaling about 795,000 episodes a year.