In a world full of innovation, there is one thing that we rarely ever get excited about — exoskeletons. These make-shift wearable robots have been significant plot devices in popular sci-fi movies for decades. The idea of having two giant mechanical arms strapped to your back has always seemed kind of scary. But for children born with cerebral palsy, walking correctly is not a gift most of them can dream about. That is where exoskeletons come into play. A step in the right direction for robotic exoskeletons, these devices are handy for helping children walk with cerebral palsy.
How Does Robotic Exoskeletons Help Children with Cerebral Palsy Walk?
A robotic exoskeleton is an external skeleton designed to aid the movement of those with limited control over their limbs. These devices are often used in physical therapy to help develop muscle memory and regain motor functions lost due to injury or disease. They have also been used in military applications to strengthen soldiers and help them carry heavy loads.
Children with cerebral palsy often have trouble walking because they cannot generate the force needed for walking. Robotic exoskeletons help children with cerebral palsy walk by providing the force to support their legs entirely. The exoskeletons prevent the need for crutches or wheelchairs, which can be difficult for children to learn how to use and can lead to further injuries. It is essential to understand that robotic exoskeletons do not cure cerebral palsy or other conditions – they only allow individuals who have limited mobility due to these conditions to walk independently without assistance from others.
These devices are typically placed on the legs and feet, but they may also include parts covering other parts of the body, like the arms or torso. The technology is still not perfected, but it is improving rapidly.
Types of Robotic Exoskeletons
There are three types of exoskeletons:
1. Passive Exoskeletons
Passive exoskeletons are worn by a child but provide no active assistance during movement. These are essentially just braces, which will help someone stand up or walk without using any muscles. These can act like crutches, improving mobility and reducing fatigue. Passive exoskeletons are typically used for people with injuries or conditions that make movement difficult, such as an older adult with arthritis or a person who’s had a stroke.
The passive robotic exoskeletons help children with cerebral palsy walk by preventing unwanted muscle contractions and providing support during play. For example, it may prevent the knees from buckling or help maintain proper posture while sitting in a chair.
2. Active Exoskeletons
Active exoskeletons are somewhat similar to passive exoskeletons but have a bonus: they use motors and sensors to propel the user forward actively. However, active devices also assist with movement by providing power for the working joints.
3. Powered Exoskeletons
Powered exoskeletons are full suits that augment the wearer’s strength, endurance, and agility by using robotics. These types of exoskeletons require batteries or other forms of power to run the motors that drive the suit’s limbs and joints. Powered exoskeletons are used in military applications to help soldiers carry heavy equipment over long distances without tiring.
The Benefits of Robotic Exoskeletons for Children with Cerebral Palsy Walk
Children with cerebral palsy benefit from robotic exoskeletons in several ways. These include:
1. Improved Balance
The robot helps with balance, especially for children with spastic cerebral palsy, who often have difficulty balancing independently. The robotic device provides support, helping them stand up straight and move more smoothly. Children who lack balance may also find it difficult to play sports or interact with others due to their clumsiness and lack of balance. However, by improving their balance, they can be more active and participate in physical activities without feeling as though they are falling over or tripping all the time.
2. Stronger Muscles
Thanks to the robotic exoskeleton device’s assistance during walking, children can take more steps while expending less energy than they would when using other mobility aids such as wheelchairs or crutches. This makes it possible for them to train their muscles more frequently and for more extended periods than when performing conventional physiotherapy treatment without a robotic exoskeleton device. This can also improve posture.
3. Increased Self-Esteem
Wearing an exoskeleton can help your child feel more confident about walking, interacting with others, and participating in activities that require good balance, such as playing sports or riding a bicycle.
4. Increased Independence
Robotic exoskeletons allow patients to perform tasks they might not be able to otherwise. With improved mobility and independence, they can take care of themselves more efficiently and expand the activities they can participate in regularly. This includes going out with friends or family, shopping, or even taking a walk around the neighborhood.
How Long Will the Robotic Exoskeleton Last?
Exoskeletons are designed for long-term use, so once you purchase one for your child, it should last through adulthood. However, some manufacturers require periodic maintenance checks and tune-ups to ensure the device is working correctly. You will also need to replace parts such as battery packs after years of use.
Though further testing is required before these exoskeletons can be distributed and used by children with cerebral palsy, they have the potential to help many people lead a more normal life. With any luck, more research and development will be done to improve them—especially their appearance and construction, which may cause problems for some users. Hopefully, though, the technology will continue to progress, reaching those who need it most.
Bionic Power’s Agilik smart orthosis (or exoskeleton) was designed for children with crouch gait from CP. We help these children stand taller and walk stronger. Check it out at http://www.Bionic-Power.com
We are also currently running a trial with the NIH (in Bethesda, Maryland) and actively seeking participants. If you or someone in your care might be a candidate for the trial, contact us or the NIH and you may get to use an exoskeleton!
And thank you MyCerenralPalsyChild.org for posting about exoskeletons and how they can help people with cerebral palsy!
Where can I purchase this device or where can I take her to receive a course ?
My fiance has a daughter with severe CP. She attends the HMS School in Philadelphia. She can use a gait trainer if she’s fully belted in. She is 17 years old and is mostly effected in her right arm. We live in Pennsylvania and can drive to Bethesda. This sounds like a wonderful program.