A team of computer science and biokinesiology rockstars recently dropped a a radical new robotic tool designed to help people who’ve had strokes to get a better handle on their recovery progress.
This could be a game-changer, considering the vast number of stroke survivors – more than 15 million worldwide annually – who face the daunting prospect of dealing with arm and hand impairment, weakness and/or paralysis, courtesy of the American Stroke Association.
Turns out, recovering from a stroke ain’t no walk in the park. Sure, we all hear the “Use it or lose it” mantra, but for survivors, it’s not that simple. Often, they lean heavily on their stronger arm to get through the day, leaving their weaker arm to languish on the sidelines – and that’s a losing strategy. It can make the situation worse, in fact, leading to impaired strength and a greater chance of injury.
Unfortunately, figuring out just how much a patient is really using their struggling arm in real life – as opposed to during clinical trials – is a huge challenge. That’s why the brainiacs at USC developed a cutting-edge robotic assistant to gather super precise data on the use of the affected arms by stroke survivors, as detail in a November 15 paper in Science Robotics.
This system leans on a nifty blend of a robotic arm for 3D spatial tracking and machine learning to create a metric for “arm non-use.” Add in a socially assistive robot to provide instructions and encouragement, and you’ve got a serious leap forward in patient assessment.
The plan is to get a more complete understanding of how patients’ activity in physical therapy translates to real life, as lead author Nathan Dennler explained. The team brought together a mix of skills from USC’s Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science and Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy to pull off this breakthrough.
In a study with 14 right-handed stroke survivors, the team found that their method was solid across different sessions, and scored high on user experience. The participants found the interaction safe and overall positive, and even asked for more personalized approaches.
Those who have waged war on the front lines of stroke recovery – like assistant professor of clinical physical therapy Amelia Cain – are pumped for the potential. They see this technology as offering crucial insights which can be woven into a patient’s rehabilitation.
“These types of technology data could provide rich, objective information about a stroke survivor’s arm use to their rehabilitation therapist,” she said.
Advancements like this could offer powerful tools for therapists and survivors trying to strategize their way through the difficult landscape of stroke recovery. It could be a major leap forward in our ability to craft personalized interventions for patients in need.