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Disability

Using robots to increase the mobility of children with cerebral palsy

Dr Andrew McDaid
University of Auckland

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Cerebral palsy (CP) describes a group of developmental disorders of movement and posture that are caused by disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain. CP is the most common cause of childhood disability and is associated with over-tight muscles (spasticity) that can lead to permanent joint contractures, muscle weakness and poor control of limbs.

These problems severely affect one’s ability to walk, which has detrimental effects on everyday tasks, rendering it difficult for children to lead a ‘normal life’.

In New Zealand, approximately one in 500 babies will be born with CP each year. Besides the debilitating effects mentioned above, the social impact on a family with a child with CP can be incredibly burdensome, with medical costs alone being ten times that of a child without CP. Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, there are treatments that can mitigate the problems associated with it.

What is this project hoping to achieve?

This project proposes to develop an intelligent robotic gait therapy that will help children with not only CP, but other disabilities, to walk more effectively.

The prototype currently under development will enable previously unmeasurable clinical data to be collected, such as individual muscle lengths and forces, throughout a period of therapy. It will provide unique data on individual trends and habits that are developed when learning to walk. The study will also evaluate the efficacy and feasibility of the intervention with a number of case studies.

A novel biomedical modelling scheme will collect data in real time, allowing rule-based algorithms to automatically adjust the robotic parameters. This will allow for patient-specific therapy, with the aim of greatly improving the gait of children, and as a consequence, quality of life; allowing those with CP to complete everyday tasks like other children.