Robots lending a helping hand to Queen’s Hospital stroke patients
PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 September 2015
The word “robot” conjures up images of futuristic technology and perhaps even the odd disaster film.
But at Queen’s Hospital, the term takes on a friendlier connotation.
Patients at its hyper acute stroke unit are participating in a trial featuring therapies such as a rehabilitation robot, which helps them strengthen their weakened limbs by playing computer-style games.
The scheme has seen 83 people take part at Queen’s – which is run by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust – with staff hoping to treat 240 people out of an overall projected figure of 720.
Senior research nurse Karen Dunne is the study co-ordinator.
The 43-year-old said: “It has been brilliant, we are getting really good feedback. Patients really want to come and take part.”
The trial, also running at three other sites across the country, is christened Ratuls (an acronym for robot assisted training for the upper limb after stroke).
It aims to discover whether rehabilitation robots can improve arm function after a stroke.
Participants are randomly split into three groups. One works with the robots, while the others are offered the usual rehabilitation or goal-based enhancement therapy, which sees patients set themselves targets for completing everyday activities.
The enhancement and robot sessions both take place three days a week, for 12 weeks.
Queen’s, in Rom Valley Way, Romford, has two MIT-Manus robots – one which works the whole arm and another restricting movement so the wrist alone is tested.
As the patients progress, their movements in the game are controlled less and less by the robots.
Karen said: “We provide support and encourage them, but the patients are quite in control.”
The study is run by Newcastle University and the area’s hospital trust, with participants referred by hospitals, GPs, or even themselves.
Queen’s will be entering patients into the trial until July 2017. Karen won’t be drawn into estimating how successful it may be, but said things “look good”.
Noel Brown, 68, of Bell Avenue, Harold Hill, has almost finished his 12 weeks taking part in the trial.
In April, he attended Queen’s Hospital for a carotid endarterectomy operation, a procedure to unblock a carotid artery, after his high cholesterol levels caused the problem.
But after the operation, he had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – often known as a “mini stroke” – which is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain.
The operation carries a small risk of causing strokes.
Noel said: “I could feel my right arm tingling, but I couldn’t move it.
“I also couldn’t speak for eight hours.
“People were saying things to me and I couldn’t answer, I couldn’t get it out, which was very confusing.
“I would look at them and smile and they would think, why’s he smiling at me?”
Noel was in hospital for three weeks and was later accepted onto the robot rehabilitation trial.
He said: “It was quite hard at first, but it gets better and I progressed each day. At first I was trying to get out of my chair and move the robot to get it there [to the targets which need to be hit in the game].
“My family have found it quite amusing when I said I have been playing games on the computer.”
High points of the treatment for Noel have included the moment he could wave his arm again.
He is also looking forward to resuming his beekeeping on his allotment near home.
But Noel is sad to finish the trial.
“These guys have been doing a terrific job, I would like to give credit to all the girls and boys.
“I feel very sad and will miss them all. They are part of my family now.”
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