BACKGROUND: Researchers at Arizona State University are working with a local company to develop a robotic arm to help stroke survivors regain the ability to perform basic tasks, such as reaching for objects and feeding themselves. The rehab device would assist in task-oriented repetitive therapy, a common treatment for stroke survivors.
ABOUT STROKE: Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and from the brain. When one of these becomes blocked, or bursts, blood and oxygen can't get to that part of the brain and it begins to die. Strokes can cause paralysis, affect language and vision, and lead to memory loss. Stroke kills nearly 163,000 people every year; it is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.
HOW IT WORKS: The robotic arm is powered by four muscles which use air pressure to move pistons up and down. It is designed to assist movement at the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Researchers studied a model of the arm to determine where to locate the muscles, and how much force was needed to produce normal reaching and feeding movements.
BENEFITS: Recent research suggests that stroke survivors can recover significant use of their arms by performing repetitive motor function exercises over a period of time, but physical therapy is expensive. A device that can be used at home is a more cost-effective approach. The robotic arm can mimic the fluid, natural way the arm extends using air-powered muscles. It is adjustable to accommodate different arm lengths and body sizes, and can also be programmed for repetitive exercises specific to the individual user, in order to improve arm and hand flexibility and strength.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Kinetic Muscles, Inc. in Tempe, Arizona, is currently producing prototypes for the project, dubbed RUPERT (Robotic Upper Extremity Repetitive Therapy). The company currently markets a device for hand rehabilitation in stroke survivors.