Robotic Arm Brace Helps Stroke Victims

January 23, 2009 6:05:15 PM PST
It's just one of the many devastating effects strokes leave behind. Up to 80 percent of survivors have trouble moving their arms. Now, people who were told they were out of options are making progress using a robotic arm brace. It's making a difference years after a stroke. Louesa Foster was a busy kindergarten teacher who juggled her career with her growing family. Two years ago a stroke changed everything.

"I sit down and everything was okay, and after a minute, not okay," Foster told Ivanhoe.

She now struggles to speak and can barely move anything on her right side.

After other therapy programs failed, Foster enrolled in a study for a robotic arm brace.

"It lifted off and ... wow," Foster recalled.

"When a patient tries to move the arm a signal is generated in the muscle," Stephen Page, Ph.D., an associate professor of rehabilitation at Drake Rehab Center and the University of Cincinnati, explained to Ivanhoe. "The brace that the patient is wearing picks up this signal and the robot that's embedded in that brace helps the patient move the arm in the way that they want to move it."

After a few weeks with the brace, Foster made progress. She's now able to make simple movements like grabbing a ball. The goal is to retrain her brain to work with her arm.

"We don't want the patients to become dependant on the brace and use the brace for the rest of their lives," Dr. Page said.

It's a slow process that takes a lot of practice, but Foster believes it's worth the hard work to reclaim her life.

Dr. Page says many insurance companies refuse to pay when therapy fails. This arm brace could be an alternative for stroke victims who are out of options. The brace is FDA approved for use in a therapy setting and this study should be completed sometime next year.

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