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Robotic exoskeleton supports adolescents with acquired brain injury

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Exoskeletons can improve motor function in children according to new research

A team of New Jersey researchers have shown that gait training using robotic exoskeletons can improve motor function in adolescents and young adults with acquired brain injury.

Behind the study are Drs Kiran Karunakaran, Naphtaly Ehrenberg and Karen Nolan from the Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research at Kessler Foundation, and JenFu Cheng and Katherine Bentley from Children’s Specialized Hospital.

Drs. Karunakaran, Nolan, Cheng, and Bentley are also affiliated with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Acquired brain injury often results in hemiparesis, causing significant deficits in balance and gait that adversely impact functional ambulation and participation in activities of daily living. Gait training using robotic exoskeletons offers an option for motor rehabilitation in individuals with hemiparesis, but few studies have been conducted in adolescents and young adults.

Participants in this study included seven individuals aged 13 to 28 years with acquired brain injury (ABI) and hemiparesis, as well as one healthy control. The ABI group included individuals with brain injuries due to anoxia, trauma, and stroke.

All participants received 12 45-minute sessions of high-dose, repetitive gait training in a robotic exoskeleton over a four-week period. The gait training was administered by a licensed physical therapist supervised by a member of the research team.

Karunakaran said: “At the end of the four-week training, participants had progressed to a more normal gait pattern, including improved loading, a longer step length and faster walking speed”

However, Nolan added: “Further study is needed to confirm the training effect in this age group with ABI, optimal dosing for the training protocol, and the durability of functional improvements.”

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