Every year, chronic stroke patients lose the ability to express or understand language due to brain damage. Neurologists call this speech-loss phenomenon, "aphasia." According to a Weill Cornell Medicine study, robotic arm therapy improves the prognosis for stroke survivors with aphasia. NYU, MIT, Harvard Medical School, and five medical centers co-authored the study. Frontiers in Neurology published the research findings.
An Innovative, New Therapy for Chronic Stroke Patients
Dylan J. Edwards, Ph.D., PT, came up with the idea for the neurological study. He noticed that stroke patients' speech improved after they had three-months of robotic arm therapy. A 2007 pilot study conducted at the University Medicine Berlin, Germany produced similar results. German researchers only studied transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
For 12 weeks, neurologists followed 17 participants in a hemiparesis rehabilitation center. These patients suffered a left-hemisphere stroke. Their illness impaired motor functions on their body's right side. They also had acquired aphasia or apraxia. The scholars examined interventions that could improve speech recovery in acquired-aphasia patients. They explored how rehabilitation for motor functions could benefit untreated areas like communication.
Motor Skills Rehabilitation Provides an Unexpected Benefit
Patients received 36 sessions of robotic arm therapy for three months. They received an hour of rehabilitation paired with 20 minutes of either active or sham tDCS. Edwards and his team used three tests to measure patients' language skills. They used the category naming, comprehensive speech-language battery, and diadochokinesis tests.
Their team scored each area using the Western Aphasia Battery-Revised (WAB-R) score. Participants also underwent a Fugl-Meyer (FM) assessment. The test evaluated participants upper-extremity ability before and after therapy. Patients improved on all three tests after the robotic arm rehab. The study found:
- Diadochokinetic tasks scores increased an average of 3.19 points.
- Category-naming abilities improved by an average of 3.27 items.
- WAB-R scores increased by 2.51 points.
- FM scores improved from 27.3 before therapy to 35.4 after post-therapy.
Edwards and his colleagues argue that tDCS didn't impact the study's results. There was no performance-related difference between patients who got active or sham tDCS therapy. Instead, Edwards said chronic stroke patients improved due to intensive robotic arm rehabilitation. The team believes that robotic arm therapy can improve language skills in acquired-aphasia patients who don't get speech-language therapy.
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