After experiencing a stroke or brain injury, the simplest movements like putting one foot in front of the other or lifting an arm to open a door can be daunting for patients. Computer-assisted devices can now offer patients an alternative to traditional physical rehabilitation and medical treatment.
A small pump filled with an antispasmodic drug that is implanted in the abdomen and controlled remotely can change a patient's life, according to Dr. Stanley Fisher, co-director of the Movement Disorders and Neuro-Rehabilitation Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute.
"The pump releases an exact dose of medication directly to the affected area. I can program the pump via computer and change dosages simply by putting a wand over the patient's abdomen," said Fisher. "This pump is just one example of how we're able to use advance computer technology to help patients regain mobility and restore quality of life."
A robotically-enhanced treadmill called AutoAmbulator is geared for patients who suffered strokes, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, as well as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. This advanced neuro-rehabilitation device offers robotic arms to move patients' legs. Another device is an upper extremity robotic joystick, which helps patients to regain function of their arms. There is also a visual restoration device available for patients who have suffered visual loss due to stroke. Fisher is also involved in ongoing research on the use of virtual reality rooms to treat patients with severe brain injuries, strokes and other neurological problems.
"These devices represent a growing field of neuro-rehabilitation technology that we can offer to patients who, in the past, didn't have many rehabilitation options. I've had patients who couldn't walk 25 feet before. After just a dozen sessions, they can walk that distance and more," said Fisher, who is also assistant professor of neurology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.