A new therapy device in use at Herrin Hospital is helping stroke victims make significant gains in the use of their hands.
Picking up a ball or a glass of water may seem pretty mundane, but to a stroke victim it can be a triumph. During a stroke, vital blood flow is cut off to areas of the brain, leaving damage that can severely disable a person’s ability to walk, talk or just pick something up from the table.
With therapy, stroke victims may regain partial control of these areas, but researchers have generally believed any significant progress would not occur after six months to a year. New research has shown that notion to be false and physical and occupational therapists have created many new therapy devices that help stroke victims retrain their brain to make their disabled hand grip objects and raise them high; even 21 years after they have had a stroke.
One such device is the SaeboFlex arm trainer. It holds the patient’s disabled hand open and then, using a system of springs, allows the patient to open and close their hand to pick up objects, lift them, and set them down again. The springs are activated by muscle tension in the forearm. As the user trains with the device, the brain gradually extends the forearm tensioning to the hand and fingers. After several sessions with the device, stroke victims were able to use their disabled hand without the SaeboFlex.
Gerrie Uy-Eichhorn, occupational therapist, Herrin Hospital, demonstrated the new device at the Stroke Brain Injury Support Group at its April meeting.
“The brain is plastic, meaning it can be retrained,” Uy-Eichhorn explained, adding that she has seen the device help several patients.
Uy-Eichhorn showed several videos documenting the progress patients made using the device. In a matter of hours they were already effectively using their hand with the help of the SaeboFlex. In days they were picking up objects and raising them as high as their chins. Weeks later the videos showed the same patients performing tasks such as drinking from a glass without the help of the SaeboFlex.
“So much for the theory that after a year you can’t improve anymore,” Uy-Eichhorn said.
The SaeboFlex weighs only one-half a pound and each device is custom fitted to the patient. Medicare and several insurance companies will pay 80 percent of the cost of the SaeboFlex. Uy-Eichhorn is the only therapist in Illinois south of Mattoon that is certified in providing therapy using the SaeboFlex.