Background: Robot-assisted therapy has become a promising technology in the field of rehabilitation for poststroke patients with motor disorders. Motivation during the rehabilitation process is a top priority for most stroke survivors. With current advancements in technology there has been the introduction of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), customizable games, or a combination thereof, that aid robotic therapy in retaining, or increasing the interests of, patients so they keep performing their exercises. However, there are gaps in the evidence regarding the transition from clinical rehabilitation to home-based therapy which calls for an updated synthesis of the literature that showcases this trend. The present review proposes a categorization of these studies according to technologies used, and details research in both upper limb and lower limb applications.
Objective: The goal of this work was to review the practices and technologies implemented in the rehabilitation of poststroke patients. It aims to assess the effectiveness of exoskeleton robotics in conjunction with any of the three technologies (VR, AR, or gamification) in improving activity and participation in poststroke survivors.
Methods: A systematic search of the literature on exoskeleton robotics applied with any of the three technologies of interest (VR, AR, or gamification) was performed in the following databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Science Direct & The Cochrane Library. Exoskeleton-based studies that did not include any VR, AR or gamification elements were excluded, but publications from the years 2010 to 2017 were included. Results in the form of improvements in the patients’ condition were also recorded and taken into consideration in determining the effectiveness of any of the therapies on the patients.
Results: Thirty studies were identified based on the inclusion criteria, and this included randomized controlled trials as well as exploratory research pieces. There were a total of about 385 participants across the various studies. The use of technologies such as VR-, AR-, or gamification-based exoskeletons could fill the transition from the clinic to a home-based setting. Our analysis showed that there were general improvements in the motor function of patients using the novel interfacing techniques with exoskeletons. This categorization of studies helps with understanding the scope of rehabilitation therapies that can be successfully arranged for home-based rehabilitation.
Conclusions: Future studies are necessary to explore various types of customizable games required to retain or increase the motivation of patients going through the individual therapies.
Stroke refers to a sudden, often catastrophic neurological event that can lead to long-term adult disability. The American Heart Association (AHA) is responsible for providing up-to-date statistics related to heart disease and stroke. According to Benjamin et al [
], the AHA released a 2017 statistics report on heart disease and stroke that stated that approximately 795,000 stroke episodes occur in the US each year. With current advancements in medical technology there has been a decrease in the rate of stroke incidents, but it can still cause paralysis and muscle weakness. Such impairments can result in motor deficits that disturb a stroke survivor’s capacity to live independently.
There are several reasons for stroke occurrence, which could be related to an increased risk of a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain (eg, dementia) [
]. Various rehabilitation techniques have been used in the area of rehabilitation-based interactive technology to assist patients in recovering from impairments, and those techniques come under the umbrella of conventional therapy, exoskeleton or robot-aided therapy, virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) therapy, games-based therapy, or a combination of any of these. These forms of therapy can be done either in the clinic or in an in-home setting. In addition to these, there is a new technology known as telerehabilitation [ ] that leverages the use of VR in home settings by providing patients access to real-time rehabilitation services through the internet while they sit at home.
One of the most effective techniques is robot-aided therapy, which has been gradually increasing in use primarily because patients may consider traditional rehabilitation therapy to be tiring and exhaustive. This may decrease their motivation and cohesion to the treatment, thus resulting in only minor improvement in the health of poststroke patients [
– ]. Various experimental evidence suggests that robot-assisted (or exoskeleton) rehabilitation has been effective in keeping patients motivated and interested in treatment for both upper or lower limb impairments [ , ]. With advancements in technology, there has also been an uptake of VR, AR, and Gamification for the purposes of rehabilitation [ ], along with robotic rehabilitation [ , ], primarily to increase engagement, immersion and motivation on behalf of the patient. Both Colombo et al and Alankus et al [ , ] concluded and showed the positive effect of exoskeleton robots and games in poststroke rehabilitation. Wearable devices such as exoskeletons can also relay real-time feedback for any VR-based interactions [ ].
Apart from these studies, Housman et al [
] showed user satisfaction survey results in which 90% of participants agreed to the fact that robot- or games-assisted therapies were less confusing, and improvements were very easy to track compared to traditional or conventional therapies. Further, it is thought that gamification can increase repetition, engagement, and range of care within the context of rehabilitation [ , ]. Games are not only useful for the field of rehabilitation, but they are also considered to be highly impactful and relevant in other medical and health fields. Russoniello et al [ ] conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study in which the effects of video games on stress-related disorders were tested, with the conclusion being that games were beneficial for their prevention and treatment. In another study, children who had cerebral palsy made use of a game (EyeToy) which was able to improve their upper extremity functions over time [ ].
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