Reaching for an orange, gripping a fork, holding a pen – all are everyday activities we take for granted. Yet for an individual with limited hand or arm control, they are challenging and frustrating endeavors. Occupational therapists at HHH have an innovative device to help their patients regain the arm and hand function needed to perform tasks such as these – the Armeo – developed by the Swiss company Hacoma Inc.
The Armeo was designed for patients with hemiparesis, or muscle weakness on one side of the body, including individuals with stroke, traumatic brain injury and other neurological and orthopedic disorders. Through intensive, repetitive and task-oriented therapy, the goal is to enable patients to regain functional use of their weakened arm and hand.
The Armeo works the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers simultaneously, or separately. It neutralizes limb weight, enabling the patient to use residual arm and hand control to complete functional exercises, thereby regaining use of their impaired arm.
The patient sits in a chair or a wheelchair directly in front of the Armeo, while an OT places their affected arm into the spring-loaded, adjustable arm support. Therapists can select from a range of exercises, all virtual reality simulations of real-life activities. One exercise mimics a food shopping excursion, with the patient picking up fruits out of a display case. In all exercises, the patient receives immediate feedback on how they are doing. The therapist can alter the level of difficulty based on the patient’s cognitive and physical condition and progress. The Armeo also stores the patient’s therapeutic and performance data, allowing the therapist to accurately track and document the patient’s progress.
Patients enjoy this new, virtual reality based therapy as they feel more like they are playing a game than performing therapy, motivating them to continue. It is being used with both inpatients and outpatients and has been shown to improve limb function.