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Vol. 37 No. 6, November/December 2000

Increasing productivity and quality of care: Robot-aided neuro-rehabilitation

H.I. Krebs, PhD; B.T. Volpe, MD; M.L. Aisen, MD; N. Hogan, PhD

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mechanical Engineering Department, Newman Laboratory for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation, Cambridge, MA 02139; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department, Cambridge, MA 02139; Cornell University Medical College, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Burke Institute of Medical Research, 1300 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021; Veterans Health Administration, Department of Rehabilitation and Development, 810 Vermont Avenue, N.W. (122), Washington, DC 20420

Abstract — This paper presents an overview of our research in robot-aided stroke neuro-rehabilitation and recovery. At the onset of this research we had to confront squarely (and solve!) a critical question: If anatomy is destiny, can we influence it? Our efforts over the last five years have been focused on answering this question and we will present a few of our clinical results from over 2,000 hours of robot-aided therapy with 76 stroke patients. To determine if exercise therapy influences plasticity and recovery of the brain following a stroke, we needed the appropriate "microscope" that would allow us to concomitantly control the amount of therapy delivered to a patient, while objectively measuring patient's performance. Back-driveable robots are the key enabling technology. Our results to date using common clinical scales suggest that robot-aided sensorimotor training does have a genuinely positive effect on reduction of impairment and the reorganization of the adult brain. Yet while clinical scales can help us to examine the impact in the neuro-recovery process, their coarse nature requires extensive and time-consuming trials, and on top of that they fail to show us details important for optimizing therapy. Alternative, robot-based scales offer the potential benefit of new finer measurements--and deeper insight into the process of recovery from neurological injury. We also plan to use present technology to establish the practicality and economic feasibility of clinician-supervised, robot-administered therapy, including classroom therapy. We feel quite optimistic that the march of progress will accelerate substantially in the near future and allow us to transfer this technology from the research realm to the everyday treatment of stroke survivors.

Key words: robot, robot-aided neuro-rehabilitation, robot-aided stroke rehabilitation, stroke, stroke rehabilitation

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