Mirror therapy has been performed as effective occupational therapy in a clinical setting for functional recovery of a hemiplegic arm after stroke. It is conducted by eliciting an illusion through use of a mirror as if the hemiplegic arm is moving in real-time while moving the healthy arm. It can facilitate brain neuroplasticity through activation of the sensorimotor cortex. However, conventional mirror therapy has a critical limitation in that the hemiplegic arm is not actually moving.
Thus, we developed a real-time 2-axis mirror robot system as a simple add-on module for conventional mirror therapy using a closed feedback mechanism, which enables real-time movement of the hemiplegic arm. We used 3 Attitude and Heading Reference System sensors, 2 brushless DC motors for elbow and wrist joints, and exoskeletal frames. In a feasibility study on 6 healthy subjects, robotic mirror therapy was safe and feasible. We further selected tasks useful for activities of daily living training through feedback from rehabilitation doctors. A chronic stroke patient showed improvement in the Fugl-Meyer assessment scale and elbow flexor spasticity after a 2-week application of the mirror robot system.
Robotic mirror therapy may enhance proprioceptive input to the sensory cortex, which is considered to be important in neuroplasticity and functional recovery of hemiplegic arms. The mirror robot system presented herein can be easily developed and utilized effectively to advance occupational therapy.