Robotic device helping young stroke survivors recover

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Researchers hope robot can help kids who’ve suffered stroke deal with disabilities
WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of Canadian kids have disabilities related to strokes they suffered at birth, and now researchers believe a robot may be able to help. Heather Yourex-West reports – Apr 4, 2016

CALGARY – Twelve-year-old, Max Challoner was just beginning his life when he suffered a stroke.

“We were in the hospital and he started having seizures,” his mother, Wendy Saunders said.

The perinatal stroke left Challoner with some mild physical disabilities on the right side of his body.  According to Dr. Adam Kirton, a pediatric stroke specialist with the Alberta Health Services, perinatal strokes are not uncommon in Canada.

“There are probably over a thousand families in Alberta and up to 10,000 children across Canada who have had a stroke at the time of birth,” Kirton said.

READ MORE: U of A research helps young stroke patients develop motor skills 

For many of these young stroke survivors, the disabilities can last a lifetime.  Occupational therapy and even brain stimulation can help kids regain some of what’s lost but researchers in Calgary are hoping the use of a robotic device will help push things a step further by helping doctors identify hidden disabilities.

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“If I asked you to close your eyes and grab your thumb, you would probably be perfectly accurate because your brain knew where your arm was even though you couldn’t see it,” Kirton said.

That unconscious perception of where the body is, is called ‘position sense’. By using the  KINARM (Kinesiology Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movements) robotic device researchers can for the first time ever, measure how a child’s ‘position sense’ has been impaired by stroke.

“It’s something we haven’t been able to measure before and we’re learning it’s a real part of disability in children who have had strokes,” he said.

Challoner was one of 40 perinatal stroke survivors to participate in the research.   His involvement along with subsequent testing revealed he was suffering from a sensory processing disorder.

“Getting involved in the research has helped us learn more about some of the issues surrounding perinatal stroke,” Saunders said. “The possibility that this could one day lead to tailored treatments for Max and other kids is quite exciting.”

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