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Exoskeletons ‘could be significant in stroke rehab’

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The growing link between COVID-19 and stroke has lead to a rise in demand for stroke therapy services

Exoskeletons could help with early rehabilitation for acute stroke, new research has found.

The use of high-dose therapy gait training using robotic exoskeletons could help increase provision for stroke rehabilitation, broadening options for patients going forward.

The research, from the Kessler Foundation, involved 44 inpatients, aged between 18 and 82, admitted to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation for acute stroke.

Half received conventional standard of care (SOC), and half received SOC with an option for overground gait training with the Ekso GT exoskeleton (RE+SOC).

“We found that gait training in the exoskeleton allowed us to increase the dose of gait training without increasing the duration of inpatient rehabilitation,” said Dr Karen Nolan, assistant director of the Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research at Kessler Foundation.

“Because overground walking in the exoskeleton requires active effort on the part of the participant, early intervention with this type of gait training promotes brain plasticity that may lead to greater functional improvements and more lasting effects when combined with conventional training.”

The study comes at a time when demand for stroke therapy options is rising significantly, with cases increasing amidst growing links between stroke and COVID-19.

Survivors often experience deficits in mobility, balance and coordination that limit their activities of daily living, and advances in robotics and biomedical engineering are expanding the options for rehabilitative care.

Through this new research involving the use of a robotic exoskeleton, it provides new potential to improve gait training after acute stroke toward the goal of earlier recovery of motor function.

In the research, involving the two groups of participants, both groups received the same amount of overall therapy time.

Overground gait training in the exoskeleton was supervised by a licensed physical therapist who adjusted the variable bilateral assistance of the Ekso GT according to each individual’s progress.

Outcome measures were total distance walked during inpatient rehabilitation and functional independence measure (FIM) score. The RE-SOC group trained in the Ekso GT at least three times during their stay.

The results are published in the article “Robotic exoskeleton gait training during acute stroke inpatient rehabilitation”.

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