University of Alberta researchers are looking for children with cerebral palsy to try out some robotic legs.
The study involves the Lokomat, a robotic gait training device that uses motorized legs on a treadmill to help patients with disabilities practice walking upright, independently.
“I like that I can walk without holding onto anything,” smiled Maggie Slessor, the study’s first volunteer.
The 12-year-old has spastic diplegia, a form of CP that affects her leg mobility and coordination. She usually uses a walker, canes or a wheelchair to get around. Maggie’s mother, Doreen Slessor, says there’s something special about watching her girl on the Lokomat at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.
“It’s almost magical,” Doreen described. “There’s that moment where she’s suspended in the air, and… then they lower her onto the mat and she’s actually walking.”
Lesley Wiart, a researcher with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, explains the study compares the Lokomat to traditional physiotherapy, specifically for young patients with CP.
“You can actually adjust the amount of guided support and body weight support,” said Wiart. “So you can have the machine doing all the work for the person who’s using it. Or you can have the person… do all the work.”
It’s believed the machine strengthens muscles and improves coordination. The researchers also suspect patients can have emotional benefits.
“Does the therapy actually improve the child’s confidence and their ability to engage in different types of physical activities?” asked Wiart.
Volunteers are randomly placed in one of four groups, two of which use the Lokomat for several weeks. Parents and children are also interviewed about mobility goals and values.
Maggie loves inviting friends to watch her using her “robot legs.”
“(My friends) think it’s really cool and they wanna try it,” laughed Maggie.
The Edmonton researchers are working with teams in Toronto and Chicago for the three-year study. If your child has cerebral palsy and is between the ages of five and 18, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (780) 492-9098.