Robots can gave a paraplegic new legs and ring up our afternoon hamburger order, but they still cannot solve the pesky shortage of careers requiring an advanced degree. Especially problematic for President Obama’s new health care mission, doctors will be in short supply and states are struggling to fill the void with physician assistants.
Fortunately, science has come to the rescue with new research proving that robot-assisted physical therapy is superior to therapy without a metallic friend. In a study presented to the American Stroke Association, patients suffering from stroke-induced paralysis on one half of their body (hemiplegia) improved upper extremity function in their shoulders, elbows, and forearms. Patients spent spent six weeks of daily 40-minute sessions with the Israeli-made Reo Therapy System, a robotic arm that scaffolds movement along a pre-determined path. Just like a human, the system can custom tailor the amount of assistance to patient needs. And, unlike their error-prone human counterparts, robots are not susceptical to the sloppy mistakes of monotonous boredom. "Robots, on the other hand, can carry out the repetitive movement exercise with exactly the right movement pattern to prevent misuse," lead other Kayoko Takahashi, tells ScienceDaily.
Takahashi’s research is latest in a torrent of related breakthroughs helping disabled patients regain basic motor skills. For instance, Italian scientist Elana Vergaro developed a robotic arm that trains stroke patients in the art of hand-shaking, so that they may reenter the coveted world of business small-talk.
Self-run therapy with a cold robotic arm may not have the same appeal as a warm, smiling physical therapist, but being able to do it yourself is better than nothing at all.