Robots speed stroke rehab

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE)- Recovering from a stroke is often a long and difficult road, but with the help of some unique therapists at Fraizer Rehab Institute, patients may be able to speed their recovery.

Occupational Therapist, Reena Sharma believes robots at Fraizer Rehab can help her get faster results for her patients. The robots are programmed to have "the right intensity, the right duration, knowing when to back off when they're doing more" Sharma says.

For the past year, Sharma's been working with Jalen Stell. In July 2009, Jalen suffered a rare spinal cord stroke that initially left every limb paralyzed. She regained the ability to walk in just a few weeks, but Jalen is still working on regaining her arm function.

Three therapy robots at Fraizer are designed with a series of computer games that push patients to use specific muscles in the arms and hands. Jalen is seeing and feeling some amazing results.

After the stroke, she couldn't feed or dress herself. But since her therapy sessions with the robots, she's able to be independent again.

The computer keeps tabs on her progress by scoring her function. That score keeps her motivated to come back. "Because I can get my score lower, " Jalen says, "and it's fun."

The robot's abilities are tough for even the best therapist to mimic. Especially the repetitions robots can put patients through, says Sharma, " as a therapist, if I move somebody's arms thousand, two thousand times, I'll be done in 2 hours."

And since research shows that repetition is what teaches the brain to communicate correctly again, the more repetition a patient can go through, the better.

Jalen spends about an hour a week in robot therapy. Her left arm is still quite weak, but making significant progress.

Robotic therapy at Fraizer is also helping patients with brain and spinal cord injuries.