Three months after David Hobbs suffered a debilitating stroke, he's up and walking. The movement that he took for granted for most of his life is now coming back, thanks to the high-tech exoskeleton at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. David is one of approximately 20 patients in three Canadian cities currently enrolled in a research study looking at the role technology plays in helping stroke patients regain their mobility. The study will continue into next year, and it's anticipated 40 participants will enrol.
The Exoskeleton for post-Stroke Recovery of Ambulation (ExStRA) study is looking at the feasibility and effect of using a robotic exoskeleton for early walking practice, after a stroke. The theory is, patients who get up walking quicker, will have better outcomes during rehabilitation and over the long-term. The study is looking at the effect of the exoskeleton program on balance, mobility, quality of life and bone health.
The study is led by Dr. Janice Eng, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the UBC Department of Physiotherapy, Neurorehabilitation Research Program at the UBC Faculty of Medicine, VCHRI researcher, and long-time GF Strong physical therapist. Dr. Eng is grateful to the Heart and Stroke Foundation for funding the research study. Doctoral candidate and physical therapist Riley Louie is working with patients at GF Strong and coordinating the BC segment of the study.
The exoskeleton straps onto a patient's legs and controls hip and knee joint movement through a computerized control system carried in a backpack. It supports the limbs to create a normal walking pattern and can supply an extra "push" to complete a step on the weaker side. With the eksoskeleton therapists don't have to manually move the patients' legs or use the treadmill.
Robotic exoskeletons are advancing rapidly. They're becoming lighter, more affordable, and more adaptable for various populations. The exoskeleton at GF Strong is a few years old and was 3D printed. An exoskeleton costs about $100 thousand. VCH has one exoskeleton, thanks to a generous donor to the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.
The study is still in the early days, but David Hobbs is a huge fan. "The exoskeleton has helped me so much," says David. "It does seem a bit like science fiction. I tease some of the patients at GF Strong that now that I've learned to walk again, the next step is flying lessons."