Non-communicable diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases, are the leading cause of death and disability in the world. An increase in their prevalence often leads to higher incidences of stroke and consequently, an increase in the number of persons living with permanent disability due to stroke.1,2 Stroke is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Over 6.8 million adults live in the USA with disabilities due to a stroke, and by 2030, this number will grow by 4 million.3,4Seventy-five percent of adults recovering from stroke have residual impairment in their limbs, with only about 25% achieving recovery with minor impairments, and only 10% achieving full recovery.5–7 Greater than 30% are unable to walk without some assistance and 26% remain dependent in activities of daily living.8
The issues influencing rehabilitation outcomes are complex; some examples of these issues are poverty, increase in health costs, short length of stays, insurance limitations, and physical constraints on rehabilitation services (e.g. time).3,6 In low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), rehabilitation outcomes are worse since a disproportionate number of the population is without easy access to rehabilitation technologies, services and skilled clinicians.1,3,9,10 Improved stroke rehabilitation approaches can maximize the functional independence of stroke survivors discharged after inpatient and outpatient services and improve access to rehabilitation for low-resource environments in USA or other LMICs.
Our long-term goal is to develop and use affordable robot technologies to improve access to rehabilitation and ultimately improve the health and function of persons with persistent motor deficits due to a stroke in the USA and worldwide, especially in LMICs where more than 80% of those living with a stroke reside. Specifically, we desire to target stroke survivors who are diagnosed with hemiparesis, are living with severe to moderate motor function impairment, and are without easy access to rehabilitation. Research efforts are needed to develop cost-effective robot devices that can do the above and function in harsher environments characterized by extreme economic hardship (per country), intermittent energy and limited expert supervisors.
Our main approach to delivering rehabilitation has always promoted robot/computer-assisted motivating rehabilitation systems for stroke therapy.31 We have proposed the use and development of mechatronic devices alone or within a suite of devices for upper limb stroke therapy. This paper summarizes lessons learned regarding the delivery of affordable and accessible stroke therapy in HICs and LMICs. We illustrate these lessons via the use of Theradrive, alone (TD-1),28–32 its development into a 1DOF Haptic Robot called Haptic Theradrive,36–38 a therapy gym in Mexico (TD-2),33–35 where Theradrive was one of six devices aimed at improving motor function after stroke. The paper then presents how a stronger and more compact version of the Theradrive is re-designed and leveraged in the development of a new low-cost, all-in-one robot gym called Rehab Community-based Affordable Robot Exercise System (Rehab C.A.R.E.S) with four exercise stations for upper and lower limb therapy. The prototype of the system is described along with strategies for control and new results from testing on exercise station 2. Finally, we discuss implications for deploying such a system in LMICs. […]