Robot Helps Paralysized Patients

By Roland Piquepaille

There are almost 250,000 paralyzed people in the U.S. because of spinal cord injury. Most of them are using electric wheelchairs to move around. But now, Hocoma, a Swiss company, has designed a robotic device, named Lokomat, which can help paralyzed people to walk on treadmills, reports the Associated Press. After training, some of the patients, who rebuild confidence by using the Lokomat, have also regained muscle power and can walk over short distances. Today, the Lokomats are available at a price of about $250,000, which certainly explains why there are only 14 Lokomats in use in the U.S. But prices will certainly decrease in the future. Read more...

Here are the opening paragraphs of the Associated Press story.

With each swish of the robotic device attached to his legs, Chuck Benefield takes a step, smiling easily as he clocks in an hour on the treadmill.
"It feels good to be up there going," said Benefield, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 2003.
With a harness supporting his weight over the treadmill, Benefield's legs and hips are strapped into a robotic exoskeleton, known as the Lokomat, which simulates a walking motion as he "stands" in front of a large mirror at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

As of today, the Lokomats are not in widespread usage.

Dr. Keith Tansey, who coordinates Southwestern's clinical program for spinal-cord injury, said more research is needed before the Lokomat becomes more widely available.
About 14 Lokomats, which cost about $250,000 each, are now available in the United States.
A patient trying the Lokomat Here is a photograph of a patient trying the Lokomat (Credit: Hocoma, Switzerland).
The Lokomat without a patient And this one shows the automated equipment without a patient. (Credit: Hocoma, Switzerland)

Here are more details about Benefield's experience with the robotic device.

"I knew it was going to be a tough road," said Benefield, who could only move one big toe after the accident. "My goal is to be as self-sufficient as I can be." The Lokomat may help him do that.
In May, about a year after his accident, Benefield walked across a room with the help of three therapists and a walker. The process was slow and he needed a lot of help, but he started to move his legs on his own. Benefield still needs the help of therapists and a walker, but he now moves his legs on his own most of the time.
He says working on the Lokomat has helped reduce the swelling in his legs and improve his endurance. He's regained muscle tone and feeling in his legs. His fingers, tightly curled before he started his workout, become more loose after an hour on the machine, Benefield said.

The above images have been extracted from one of the two Lokomat short movies available from Hocoma of Switzerland. You'll find additional information about this technology at Hocoma and Woodway Treadmills who entered a joint venture to distribute the Lokomat.

And if you're really interested by this robotic device, you also can read this story published by swissinfo.

Sources: Jamie Stengle, Associated Press, October 17, 2004; and various websites

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