27 September 2009

Robots Teach Kids How To Walk

BACKGROUND: Cerebral palsy is a condition that causes physical disability in early development. It is caused by damage to the white matter in the motor centers of the developing brain and abnormalities that disrupt the brain's abilities. Brain damage is caused by bleeding and a lack of oxygen to the brain. Perception, cognition, communication and musculoskeletal problems may also occur. Exposure to toxic substances, premature birth, low birth rate, infections during pregnancy and blood type incompatibility are some of the many risk factors for cerebral palsy. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatments used early and regularly can reduce the affects of the disease. Many specialists are examining how brain cells form and make the right connections and are trying to prevent disruption of the normal development of the brain.

SYMPTOMS: Young children with cerebral palsy may not be able to crawl, walk, or sit without support or reach. Development of abnormal muscle tone or uncontrolled movements may occur. Speech problems, mental retardation, seizures, hearing loss and vision problems are also symptoms of cerebral palsy. Experts say if parents see their child develop these symptoms, they should contact their health care provider for testing.

TREATMENTS: Rehabilitation treatment involves physical activity and stretching to accomplish tasks such as walking and sitting unsupported. Occupational therapy helps address and accomplish needs in order to live the most independent life possible. Communication problems can be overcome by speech therapy. Medications such as dopaminergic drugs like Sinernet and Artane, and muscle relaxants can also be prescribed to reduce abnormal movements and help prevent seizures.

THERAPIES: Lokomat therapy uses a robotic device to help a person learn how to walk. The patient is put in a harness over a treadmill and robotic leg harnesses repeat a natural walking motion while strengthening leg muscles. Computers measure the response to the movements and also provide motivational cartoons to give the patients instruction. Before Lokomat, this therapy was done by people manually moving patients' legs. The more traditional method limited the effectiveness and duration of the therapy, but the Lokomat keeps a constant, more long-term pace. Results from a study indicated that there was an improvement in motor function and walking speed after using Lokomat therapy. Children over age 4 with neurological conditions that are evaluated by a physician are eligible for Lokomat therapy.

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