Stroke patient makes gains in speech, physical therapy with robot

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Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are touting success in the case of a robot that delivered speech and physical therapy to a 72-year-old male stroke patient.

"It's clear from our study … that a personal humanoid robot can help people recover by delivering therapy such as word-retrieval games and arm movement tasks in an enjoyable and engaging way," speech language pathologist and study leader Yu-kyong Choe said in an announcement.

While the child-sized robot might not be the ideal therapist, it could help ease the shortage of workers, especially in rural areas.

"A personal robot could save billions of dollars in elder care while letting people stay in their own homes and communities," the authors wrote in a study published in the journal Aphasiology.

The study looked at how intervention in one domain, speech, affected that of another--physical therapy.

The patient had aphasia and physical disability on one side. He underwent speech therapy alone for five weeks, then solely physical therapy for five weeks. Afterward, he attended back-to-back speech and physical therapy sessions for five weeks.

He made "notable gains in the frequency and range of the upper-limb movements," the authors reported, as well as gains in verbal expression. However, he made greater gains when undergoing only one intervention at a time. With the back-to-back schedule, "speech and physical functions seemed to compete for limited resources" in the brain, the authors said.

The work was part of a grant from the American Heart Association to study the effectiveness of stroke rehabilitation delivered by a humanoid robot.

In a presentation to the Canadian Stroke Congress last fall, researchers from the University of Calgary outlined how rehabilitation robots can identify post-stroke impairments and adjust treatment regimens accordingly. The robots track limb movements and personalize the therapy patients receive.

Last August, Rice University, the University of Houston and TIRR Memorial Hermann researchers began testing technology that allows patients to operate with their minds an exoskeleton that wraps around the arm from the fingertips to the elbow. The device is aimed at innovating upper-limb rehab.

To learn more:
- find the research
- here's the announcement

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