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Working With Robots May Help After a Stroke

People who lost use of a hand recaptured movement, study finds,,

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Robotic therapy might help stroke victims regain some of their impaired physical abilities, even if it's been years since the debilitating event.

People with partial paralysis on the right side after a stroke were better able to use their hands to pick up, hold and move objects after they participated in robot-assisted practice grabbing and releasing objects, according to research scheduled to be presented this week at the International Stroke Conference in San Diego.

All 15 participants in the study showed some improvement after the robotic treatment, but those who had less physical impairment at the start of the therapy improved the most. The participants all had had a stroke four months to 10 years before the treatment.

"The status of a patient's motor system at the beginning of therapy is very much related to how treatment will affect them," study senior author Dr. Steven C. Cramer, director of the Stroke Center at the University of California, Irvine, said in a news release issued by the American Stroke Association, which is sponsoring the conference.

The treatment involved motor therapy, in which the participants performed the computer-aided grasping and releasing at their own pace, or a more complex treatment, called pre-motor therapy, in which a timed signal cued the person to either grab, let go or rest. In both treatments, the computer helped people complete the grab or release movement only if they could not finish it themselves.

"Sensory function feeds into motor function," said Cramer, who is also an associate professor of neurology, anatomy and neurobiology at the university. "We completed the movement in these instances so the brain could experience the signals of a completed correct movement."

People with milder physical impairment showed more gains from the pre-motor therapy than the motor therapy in testing done a month after their two weeks of treatment. Among those with more severe motor nerve damage, the gains were similar, regardless of the treatment technique.

Cramer said that robotic therapy, while still in its infancy, has great potential in several types of treatment.

"Robotic therapy may be useful in its own right," Cramer said. "But it could also help rewire, or reshape, the brain in conjunction with other stroke therapies. One of the key points in the current study is that the way we use robots to help people recover function might differ according to how severe their stroke was."

More information

The American Stroke Association has more about recovering from a stroke.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, news release, Feb. 18, 2009

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