Robots are most often found in science fiction. Recently, however, researchers are using robot-like technology to help people with severe disability caused by multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition estimated to affect nearly 3 million people worldwide.
According to a recent study published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, researchers at the Kessler Institute have completed a proof-of-concept study examining the efficacy of an exercise program using robotic exoskeleton technology, called robotic-exoskeleton assisted exercise rehabilitation (REAER), which could be used to improve the quality of life of individuals with severe MS.
Standard rehabilitation treatment for people with MS involves a range of exercise training, including walking. Evidence suggests that these approaches can help manage MS symptoms, particularly for those who experience mobility and cognition issues.
“Exercise is really powerful behavior that involves many brain regions and networks that can improve over time and result in improved function,” noted Dr. Sandroff, a senior research scientist at the Kessler Foundation.
The study conducted by Kessler Foundation researchers attempts to enhance understanding about the efficacy of rehabilitation efforts for people with severe MS, as current rehabilitative approaches are often ineffective for this patient population or lack evidence proving their effectiveness.
The study, which enrolled 10 participants with severe MS, compared the use of traditional walk-based rehabilitation treatment with the REAER program on symptom management over 4 weeks. Specifically, researchers looked at things like how far participants could walk and a participant’s cognitive processing abilities.
Findings, while preliminary, showed favorable results for the use of REAER. Over the four weeks, participants showed significant improvements in cognitive processing, mobility, and connectivity between areas of the brain, such as the thalamus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
"This [research] is particularly exciting because therapy using robotic exoskeletons shows such promise for improving the lives of people with co-occurring mobility and cognitive disability, a cohort that likely has the greatest potential to benefit from this new technology," said Dr. Androwis, the study's lead author.
Source: Eureka Alert