Every year, over 700,000 people in the US suffer from stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the number 3 cause of mortality in the US, after heart diseases and different types of cancer.
Those who are lucky to survive this monster can end up with after effects that would include paralysis, speech or language impairment, vision problems, behavioural changes, and memory loss.
Partial paralysis can result in gait impairment and with it the stigma of disability. Mobility is affected and the patient may not be able to perform activities he or she has done before the stroke. Rehabilitation helps but is not always successful in helping people regain their normal gait. Through rehabilitation, most stroke survivors are able to walk again but with the aid of walkers and canes.
This study conducted at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation (BIR) aimed to help stroke survivors walk normally again using a specially designed treadmill.
The approach, known as locomotor treadmill training with partial body weight support, consists of a treadmill outfitted with a harness. The patient is secured to the harness to support a portion of their body weight while walking on the treadmill. In this reduced weight environment, the patient can relearn how to walk in a safe and controlled manner. Once the patient becomes stronger, more body weight is added until they can comfortably walk on their own without the need for assistance.
Seven patients were recruited to participate in this pilot study. After the study was completed, all participants were able to walk and even gain their normal gait without the aid of a cane. In most cases, it is not evident that they have suffered from stroke from the way they walk.
Early intervention is essential for this method to work. Patients should start the rehabilitation program as early as possible so as to prevent abnormal gait patterns from developing. Currently, there is no clinical “gold standard” for stroke rehabilitation.
Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation is a not-for-profit, 92-bed hospital that offers intense, specialized rehabilitation services for traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, strokes, and other orthopaedic and neurological disorders. Physicians specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, known as physiatrists, lead interdisciplinary clinical teams, which work with patients to design and implement a treatment program to achieve the patient’s goals. In 2007, Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation was named among the top rehabilitation hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Hospitals” guide, an honor it has received for 10 years.