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Robotic Legs Could Yield Benefits for Children with Cerebral Palsy

We at Aspire of WNY are always excited about new technology that could benefit individuals with disabilities.  Any new therapy that could augment community services for the developmentally disabled definitely catch our attention and a  new and intriguing physical therapy technique could soon be on the way to assist youngsters suffering from cerebral palsy.  The University of Alberta is currently conducting a study on the powerful tool Lokomat and the potential benefits it could provide in treating children with the condition.

Lokomat is a “robotic gait training program” that while having been around for a couple years, has mainly been used by older, adult demographics.  But the robotic assistance for legs has now been adapted for children and researchers are hoping to prove multiple benefits of adding it to traditional physical therapy-based interventions.  As most any medical professional would tell you, treating children presents an entirely different set of standards juxtaposed to adults, and smaller bodies are often just the tip of the iceberg.  Similar to typical social environments such as school, home, clubs and/or teams — attitude, enthusiasm, and motivation are all aspects worthy of monitoring in successful therapy campaigns.

In this month’s press release announcing the study, Shannon Phelan, one of the project’s researchers and  assistant professor of occupational therapy at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, explains that evaluating children’s goals plays an important part in therapy.

“Robotic gait training interventions are becoming more and more popular, especially for parents who are seeking out the newest technologies and interventions,” explains Phelan.  “We tend to assume all children want to walk or use a robot because it’s cool, but that’s not always the case and it’s important to listen to the child’s perspective on this.”

12-year-old Maggie Slessor, who suffers from CP, is one of the children taking part in the study.  In the press release, Slessor describes her excitement about the new therapy.  “It’s great to be able to walk without having to hold on to anything.  My friends think it’s really cool when I show them the pictures.  They think I’m a robot.”

The Lokomat system utilizes its robotic legs to neutralize the user’s body weight while aligning and mobilizing their legs through the ordinary motions of walking.  The system can reduce or even eliminate the need to use arms for support while they walk and can potentially provide a substantial boost in morale, which is especially important in children.

Lokomat has previously been used to assist children recovering from spinal cord injuries

UA professor of Physical Therapy Lesley Wiart is leading the study.  She says he potential benefits of Lokomat therapy could extend to all areas of patient’s lives.

“We are interested in how the treatment affects walking, “but also how it affects the child’s confidence to participate in physical activities and their participation in other activities in their homes and communities,” Wiart explained.

While the University of Alberta’s study is the largest randomized, control trial to date to evaluate the effectiveness of robotic gait assist, researchers claim that even if its physical benefits prove to be minimal, it could yield major application on the psychological health of patients.

The study is expected to take five years to complete and will involve at least 150 children.  The university is currently recruiting children and youth with cerebral palsy aged five to 18 years who walk with or without handheld walkers.

From vocational training  to housing for the developmentally disabled, helping and working with individuals suffering from developmental disabilities is a passion of everyone here at Aspire.  As technology continues to advance, we’re hopeful of new, and better treatment options continuing to become available in the future.

Families interested in participating in the Lokomat study can contact lokomatstudy@ualberta.ca

 

 

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