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The University of Southampton

Stroke rehabilitation technology that's fun and can be used at home

Published: 13 September 2009

Stroke rehabilitation technology which patients can operate in their own homes while playing computer games, is being developed by academics at the University of Southampton.

Therapists, doctors, engineers and psychologists at the University have come together to set up ARM (Assessment, Rehabilitation, Movement) – a unique initiative that is using ideas from industrial robots to help patients regain and control movement of the arm and hand after a stroke.

“We felt it was important for people to have fun while they recovered,” said Professor Jane Burridge of the University of Southampton’s School of Health Sciences. “In fact we find it’s often difficult to get them to stop playing the computer games!

“As far as we know no-one has tried using this technique – Iterative Learning Control – to help people move again after a stroke and much of the research and rehabilitation into the effects of stroke has focussed on walking. We believe ARM is a great example of how state-of-the-art control theory, normally used for industrial robots, can be applied to challenges in rehabilitation.”

Professor Burridge is leading the ARM team, which is the first group to take such a comprehensive approach to upper limb stroke rehabilitation. The pioneering system developed by researchers at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, working with colleagues in Health Sciences, aims to retrain weak or paralysed arm muscles in patients who have suffered brain damage as a result of a stroke.

Stroke rehabilitation technology that's fun and can be used at home

After initial successful trials at the University, the ARM researchers are now applying the system to retrain hand and arm function using computer games technology. Their research has attracted considerable attention and interest, including national and international awards.

“We can use state-of-the-art engineering discoveries to make a real difference to people’s lives,” said Professor Burridge. “We are also breaking new ground in understanding how the brain recovers the ability to control movement of the arm and hand after stroke. This is essential knowledge to enable us to develop and test new treatments.”

In collaboration with the ARM team, NHS hospitals and the Universities of Bournemouth and Keele, have already attracted a grant of £2 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to take rehabilitation technology out of the laboratory and into healthcare practice nationally.

“By assembling a multidisciplinary team and bringing together their insights and expertise we want to improve people’s quality of life after stroke by helping them regain the use of their arms,” said Professor Burridge. “With this new technique our patients can actually see their progress and work to improve their performance, and have fun at the same time!”

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