STROKE victims at Addenbrooke’s Hospital are being helped by a robot arm, the first of its kind in the UK.
The stroke rehabilitation robot is helping patients at the Cambridge hospital get movement back in their shoulders and arms.
The robot has been set up by researchers from the University of East London’s (UEL) School of Health and Bioscience. They want to investigate the best ways of using the new equipment to help patients recover from strokes more quickly.
Tony Seddon, the first patient to benefit, said: “This is the hardest I’ve had to work since my stroke. The robot is doing things you can’t do in any other way. Stretching, concentration, precise movement – they’re all combined.”
The patient sits at a desk, holding hands with a jointed arm connected to the robot’s control system.
In front of them, a screen shows a clock face with a moving coloured spot.
The challenge is to follow the spot with a pointer controlled by the patient’s hand.
W ill Winterbotham, who leads the team of physiotherapists using the equipment, said: “When Tony’s muscles are working well, the robot leaves him to get on with the exercise. But when he struggles or shakes, it guides him in the right direction. As he gets better, it helps him less and less – so over time his body learns to make the right movements rather than the wrong ones.”
Professor Duncan Turner, from UEL, said: “The key to success is repetition, repetition, repetition. Under a trained therapist’s supervision, the robot can be programmed to help patients with tasks like reaching out and picking things up.
It can carry out 1,000 repetitions an hour – a human physiotherapist could never match that level of intensity.”
Joe Korner, from the Stroke Association, said: “Repetition of movement can create new pathways in the brain – and this robot really does help people to do that. By guiding, it’s also telling the brain what movements and what thought patterns it needs to do.”
A fter a week of practice, Tony said:
“My shoulder is more relaxed. I can definitely feel the muscles getting stronger, and my arm is more flexible.
“For the first time since my stroke I can bend my elbow and scratch my nose.”