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New Hope for Stroke Survivors

HOUSTON, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- There are more than four million stroke survivors living in the United States. It's been a standard prognosis for almost all of them -- whatever motor skills you didn't get back right away may be lost forever; but now, new technology is proving that even stroke rehab is better late than never.

Judy Walsh is proud grandmother and a stroke survivor. "I just couldn't believe it," Walsh recalls. "Here I am, 54. I never thought I would have this problem."

But now at age 64, ten years post stroke, Walsh is still feeling the effects. "My left side of my leg, my left arm, my speech and my swallowing," Walsh describes.

For many stroke patients, functions that aren't relearned in the first few months after their stroke are nearly impossible to get back. Regaining motor skills is a frustrating process that makes even the simple things in life difficult.

"Getting dressed, putting socks on that's a two-handed deal too," Walsh says.

But mechanical engineer Marcia O'Malley is determined to help stroke patients continue on their road to recovery, no matter how far out they are. "If we continue to deliver therapy, they're going to see continued improvement," Marcia O'Malley, of Rice University in Houston, told Ivanhoe.

Using the same technology found in video game controllers, she's using a technology called haptics, which relies on the perception of touch, allowing patients to feel their environment while being guided through correct movements.

"We know that repetitive practice -- high intensity practice -- can improve outcomes for rehabilitation, and robots are really well suited to that," O'Malley explains.

By repeating exercises over and over, patients regain motion. Mike Dixon was able to get the results he was looking for, four years after his stroke. "Things show that I'm improving on a regular basis," Dixon says.

This joystick therapy could be in high demand, but that's something O'Malley and her team has already thought about. "A robotic device might enable one therapist to oversee numerous patients at the same time," O'Malley explains. Giving more patients like Walsh the freedom to move as they please.

This joystick technology can also potentially be used by patients at home, allowing them to continue rehab on their own schedule.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Marcia O'Malley
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Rice University
Houston, Texas
(713) 348-3545

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Prior Reports
A joint production of Ivanhoe Broadcast News and the American Institute of Physics. Partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
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