Futuristic exoskeleton at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne reteaching people how to walk

A futuristic robotic device at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne is helping patients relearn to walk, helping them recover quicker than traditional rehabilitation.

Posted: Mar 12, 2021 9:14 PM
Updated: Mar 13, 2021 2:09 AM

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - Ron Bear is learning to walk again. The 81-year-old started having serious balance issues two years ago and recently, he took a fall that caused a head injury.

"I took a fall in my garage. Woke up in the living room and my wife could not understand my speech," Bear explained

His head injury made walking even worse, but now, thanks to a robotic exoskeleton, along with a team of therapists at the Fort Wayne Rehabilitation Hospital, he’s relearning to walk.

Bear says at his age, "One fall can kill you and you have to learn to live with that aspect and make every day you have count in a productive way."

The exoskeleton is a robotic gait trainer.

Greg Parrett, director of therapy at the hospital, explained it helps reteach the brain of those with neurological issues how to properly react when someone wants to move their legs, but can’t.

"Someone who has, say, a stroke, the pathways that’s telling your brain to move the legs are no longer there. So, new pathways have to form," Parrett says. "Those new pathways form by consistent repetition and so the more repetitions we can get in with a patients, the quicker that recovery will happen."

The exoskeleton allows patients to get hundreds of more steps in during a session than normal training. 

Medical Director Dr. Shelene Ruggio says for some people, including Bear, the device helps patients retain more of the relearned ability if they have to stop and come back months later.

"It was very rewarding to have him to get back and using the exoskeleton and to see the carryover that was maintained from his previous use to the use now, he’s doing much, much better. Each day he’s making progress and he’s amazed and so is his family," Ruggio said.

Patients and families tend to be nervous about the device at first, Ruggio says, but are happy with how quick recovery can happen.

For Bear, he says this futuristic device to help people like him is something he never thought was possible, saying, "I think it’s really an amazing thing."

Representatives from Lutheran Health Network say this is a one of a kind device in the region and Parrett says a majority of people in their facility have neurological issues and can benefit from the device.

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