Suffering a stroke can have devastating ramifications, possibly leading to paralysis of the face, arm, or leg, difficulties speaking, and trouble walking. All these are very likely if you are lucky enough to survive, as strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Strokes are the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in America. One of these disabilities is a signature limp that is experienced by many stroke survivors, often leading to a reduced range of motion.
Engineers from the University of South Florida have created a device that improves current gait (a person’s manner of walking) problems in stroke survivor, with early studies showing much promise.
Walking difficulties brought on by stroke
Many stroke patients develop gait problems due to damage to their central nervous system, resulting in difficulty moving their legs. This often manifests as the inability to extend the food backward. This prevents the natural motion of pushing off into the swing phase of walking.
This device comes in the form of a shoe attachment called the Gait Enhancing Mobile Shoe (GEMS). With the aid of physical therapy and neurology, stroke patients are able to improve their walking ability and balance. The GEMS also provides several advantages over current stroke rehabilitation for improving walking ability including cost, greater convenience, and motility.
Commonly implemented stroke rehabilitation to improve gait uses a device called a split-belt treadmill. This has shown be helpful, stroke patients find it difficult to recreate the gait correction on solid ground.
Benefits over traditionally used methods
The split-belt treadmill is expensive and requires a dedicated space to house plus qualified staff to monitor sessions. This expense increases due to stroke patients often needing more time to overcome their disability when using the treadmill device.
“This is early in the process, but we’re seeing the benefits we expected so it’s very promising. We really want to help people who are limited in their walking ability to improve enough so they can return to the activities of their daily lives. The long-term hope is that this shoe attachment could be less expensive and safe enough that, once trained on how to use it, patients could take the GEMS home for therapy,” said Kyle Reed, PhD, associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the USF College of Engineering and principal investigator for the preliminary study on GEMS.
The GEMS device is generally worn on the affected side and allows for movement across any safe surface. This allows for the brain to learn compensation techniques for everyday walking, not just when on a treadmill.
While more detailed studies are required, early results strongly support the successful improvement of gait for stroke patients. By creating a study that directly compares GEMS to the split-belt treadmill, a more definitive conclusion can be made.