Robots help to get rehab patients back on their feet

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 11:18 AM EDT
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Almost 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year. More than 250,000 people are living with a spinal cord injury. Almost as many people will be diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in 2021. What do all of these people have in common? Most of them will end up in rehab to help get their lives back to normal. Now, a new type of robot is helping people get up on their feet and walking again.

Twenty-eight-year-old Joshua Naea was a powerhouse on the dance floor. And he kept dancing until a stroke swept him off his feet.

“My left side pretty much felt like it was sinking into the floor. Then I realized I couldn’t move it at all,” shared Naea.

Fast forward six weeks and Naea is walking! The longest ZeroG gait and balance system in the country is what got Naea moving. Therapists use this track to help patients who have suffered everything from spinal cord injuries to bone fractures regain mobility and learn to walk again.

Randy Carson, a physical therapist with University of Utah Health, explained, “It’s a robot that stays above you and then has a tethered line that goes down to a harness.”

Patients can re-learn how to stand, move, walk and climb stairs, all without fear of falling.

“It allows safety really for the therapist and the patient,” continued Carson.

“They put like seven straps on me. I feel pretty safe. And then they got me walking and it was awesome,” smiled Naea.

Therapists believe z-track helps people recover faster and gets them home several weeks sooner.

“I’ve been working in physical therapy well over 25 years and it’s the best piece of equipment I’ve ever worked with hands down,” stated Carson.

It also gave Naea the boost of confidence he needed.

“I was like, okay. You know what? I can recover!” said Naea.

And get back out bustin’ some moves.

Rehab is changing. State-of-the-art technologies like this one are incorporating physical therapy into activities such as cooking and playing sports. New research shows by improving rehab techniques, outcomes for spinal cord and head injury patients are improving, allowing many to leave the hospital by walking out the door, not in a wheelchair.

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