Stroke rehab is typically a slow and meticulous process that requires a good deal of mental stamina and lots of help from professionals. Personally delivered rehab from a specialist is expensive, but if one has the staying power there’s new technology coming from Hong Kong Polytechnic University that lets people rehabilitate at home.
The “mobile exo-neuro-musculo-skeleton”, as the new powered arm orthosis is called, combines soft robotics and neuro-muscular electrical stimulation technology invented at the university to let people train at home. It has electromyography sensors that detect when the wearer is trying to move the affected muscles, immediately activating stimulation to make those muscles move with confidence while moving the robotic arm as intended.
Soft robotic technologies are implemented within the orthosis to make the device light and comfortable to wear and use. The upper arm component weighs only 300 grams (11 ounces) and it doesn’t require much power, which is supplied from a built-in battery that lasts up for up to four hours per session.
The combination of timely stimulation with actual mechanical movement of the arm helps the brain to learn to associate various movements with one’s intentions, essentially speeding the process of neuroplasticity that’s essential for a proper recovery.
It is hoped that the device will allow stroke patients to go through most of their recovery process at home, helping to save tremendous amounts of money while making the journey for patients easier and faster.
According to the Hong Kong researchers, “the combination of muscle strength triggered by NMES and external mechanical forces is 40% more effective for stroke rehabilitation than applying external mechanical forces alone.”
A trial of ten post-stroke patients using the device has shown improved coordination, better control of hand and finger movements, and reduced spasticity after 20 sessions each lasting for two hours.