With the rate at which technology has been developing in recent years, it can sometimes be difficult to see where science fact ends and science fiction begins. This is especially true of the world of robotics. New developments often seem to mimic what was once found only in the pages of a comic book. Truly immersive virtual reality, robotic devices that are controlled by brain and muscle impulses have since leaped from the pages of science fiction to change people’s lives. And stroke patients haven’t been left behind in this brave new world. Stroke rehabilitation is changing with the advent of programs that combine a traditional approach to physical rehabilitation with robotic systems. These systems can assist movement and promote real improvements in stroke-affected areas of the brain.
But as we head full-speed towards the future, one question remains. Are we sure that these technologies offer a real benefit over traditional approaches to therapy? This was the question that a team of researchers in Japan dared to ask.
Hybrid assisted limb technology
The researchers looked at a system known as HAL, or hybrid assisted limb technology. This wearable device amplifies signals from the muscles to help limb movement. In turn, it provides sensory feedback that promotes improvements in the stroke-affected areas of the brain. The team studied a group of ten patients with subacute stroke. By using brain imaging technology, the researchers were able to identify activation in the motor cortex of the stroke-affected side of the brain that occurred as a result of the HAL-assisted arm movements. This increased activation translated to immediate improvements in limb function. This finding led the researchers to believe that systems like HAL could play a valuable role in stroke recovery. So talk with your therapist — it could be time to let HAL into your life.
The lead author of the publication is Kazuya Saita, Department of Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine, Fukuoka University, Fukuoka, Japan.