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UD researchers turn to wearable robots for stroke rehab

Evan Krape
University of Delaware
UD researchers Fabrizio Sergi, Darcy Reisman and Jill Higginson monitor a student's gait.

University of Delaware researchers want to improve stroke rehabilitation using wearable robots.

They’re studying how to better use these robots to help stroke survivors learn how to walk again.

Physical therapy professor Darcy Reisman stressed the importance of natural recovery within the first six months of having a stroke.

“So we really try to capitalize on that in the sense that that’s when most stroke survivors get their most intensive rehabilitation,” Reisman said. “But we also know that you can continue to recover from strokes throughout your lifetime.”

After the first six months, devices like wearable robots can come into play, but the ones that are readily available now don’t address patients’ needs as well as they could, she said.

“If you’re in a robot and the robot is basically passively moving you, you don’t actually really relearn how to walk, the robot just sort of takes over,” Reisman said. “And that works very well if, for example, you have a spinal cord injury where you’re not actually able to move those muscles.”

Reisman said it’s a different story for stroke victims. A person still has a degree of body control and researchers want to them to work to develop more control.

Reisman along with biomedical engineering professor Fabrizio Sergi and mechanical and biomedical engineering professor Jill Higginson are developing wearable robots to help stroke survivors who have already completed their first six months of recovery. They aim to focus the robot on targeting the walking impairments stroke survivors have.

They’re also going to look at other technology, such as Fitbits, to see how they can assist in overcoming stroke impairments.

Reisman, Sergi and Higginson received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a robot learning approach to stroke recovery. At the end of the grant in three years, they plan to have a wearable robot prototype ready to test on patients who have had strokes.

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