Health Team

Stroke patients trying robot therapy

Posted November 1, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated November 1, 2010 6:42 p.m. EDT

Every year about 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke. Many patients lose function on one side of their body, but doctors are hoping robotics can help stroke survivors get back what they have lost.

FBI agent Krista Stanton had to put her career on hold three years ago when a stroke paralyzed the left side of her body. Now even opening a door is a challenge.

“I’d love to be able to tie my shoes,” Stanton said.

Stanton is hoping a robotic device will give her better control of her left hand. Her fingers are on levers and when she moves them to play a video game the lever helps complete the motion.

Doctors believe repeating movements can retrain the brain to send clearer signals to the arm, “and helps the person gradually re-establish control over the limb,” said Dr. Joel Stein of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Researchers at New York Presbyterian are working with robotic devices that are not only helping stroke victims who lost control of their arms and hands, but they're also helping patients retrain their legs.

Ellen Donaldson is hoping to lose the cane she's been using since suffering a stroke in 2007 by trying out a robot that senses her motion and helps her walk.

“I came home excited, told my husband I was able to walk up the steps normally,” Donaldson said.

Stanton has also seen some progress.

“Ultimately I’m hoping to get everything back and get back to work,” Stanton said.

Doctors say there is a large need for this type of therapy as about half of all stroke survivors lose some ability to move their arms and legs.

If testing is successful, doctors hope robotics will soon be widely available to help stroke patients gain more control of their bodies.