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Exoskeletons

Last week we were invited along to a presentation at the Excel centre on the Indego. The Indego is the latest exoskeleton device to hit our shores and we were curious to see what the ‘new kid on the block’ had to offer.

This blog is an opportunity for us (Andy and Marrianne) to share our thoughts and experiences of exoskeletons. As with previous blogs we have put together for the RST website, we’re not asking for agreement or recognition; we’re simply sharing our experiences and our point of view for anyone who might be interested.

blog 1Record Breaker:  A few years ago Marrianne became the highest injured person, in the world, to walk in the Ekso exoskeleton device. This of course was an incredibly moving experience, not only for us but for our family who were present too. It also opened the doors for others with Marrianne’s injury level to have a go. For the record, Marrianne crushed her C2 & C3 vertebra and burst her C4 back in 2004. This left Marrianne a C4 tetraplegic. Since this initial ‘classification’ Marrianne has worked very hard to maintain her health and improve on the flickers of movement she was left with. (those who know Marrianne will confirm her determination for progress.) Today Marrianne has the function of someone one, maybe two, levels below the initial prognosis. This is testament to Marrianne’s dedication and desire to improve on her quality of life. Although Marrianne is still severely disabled, she lives life to the max and continues to make progress.

Ok, digression over! – back to the Exoskeletons… To see Marrianne ‘walking’ again, even with the help of the Ekso, was amazing. It had been nine years at that point since Marrianne’s injury and of course we all loved every moment. There’s no doubt that there is a massive positive psychological impact for someone who has been in a wheelchair for a long period of time to suddenly be up and walking around. We’re not so convinced that the positive impact would be so strong for someone newly injured; for someone still coming to terms with their injury and with walking ‘fresh’ in their memory, it could prove to be an anti-climax (but of course everyone is different).

Managing expectation is the key to so many things associated with SCI but particularly when it comes to exoskeletons. Let’s be clear…they aren’t a ‘cure’. Marrianne was fortunate to have a sustained period of access to the Ekso and loved it. The initial euphoria of walking does wear off but then it’s a case of using the device for rehab purposes and physical gain. There are exoskeletons that sell themselves as mobility devices and no doubt people do use them, on occasions, to get around but we think the reality at the moment is that they are a long way from being able to compete with a wheelchair as the number one choice for someone with an SCI to get around. In terms of rehab, there are great physical benefits but they aren’t miracle workers. It comes back to managing expectation. Marrianne used the Ekso regularly but not exclusively or at the cost of other exercises. At the moment, exoskeletons are a great ‘piece of kit’ to incorporate into an ongoing rehab program. Using them alongside FES and other equipment is key but the major issue is always the cost!!

There’s no doubt that the design, engineering and technology that goes into exoskeletons is amazing and we’re pretty sure that this is only the beginning, but owning one right now is out of most peoples reach and therefore it’s not on the radar for the majority of people with spinal cord injuries. There are a growing number of private rehab centres owning exoskeletons, though most of these charge a high premium for use. Sharing and somehow making this technology accessible to everyone, to at least have a go, would really be a game changer. If you’re lucky enough to have one, it’s not something to stick in the cupboard when you’re not using it – share the love and let others give it a go.

blog 2The Indego presentation:  If the first Exo on the scene was the equivalent of the first iphone then you could argue that the Indego is the Iphone 6. First impressions of the device were great, it looked very compact and agile. From reading the literature and listening to various people talk about the Indego it would seem that although they are joining the exo party late, their development team have used that to their advantage and made the most of the new technologies available to them. i.e you can relay data on your sessions in the Indego directly to you iphone, allowing you to easily monitor progress. Their CEO spoke superbly about managing expectations, continued product development (including free FES upgrades when the technology is ready) and also where their device sits in terms of mobility / rehab. We haven’t had a chance to try this bad boy out yet to truly give our opinion, but we hope to do so soon. One big plus for the Indego is their association with Anatomical Concepts. Anatomical Concepts are the UK distributers for the Indego. We’ve had the pleasure of working with AC in the past on other products and we know all about their passion for making the latest rehab technologies available to people in the UK. Their clinical background shines through and whilst the Indego still has a large price tag, if anyone can help make this great technology accessible to everyone… it’s these guys. Everything has to start somewhere. Lets hope we can get our RST scholars up and experiencing the Indego soon. 😉

To be continued…

Andy and Marrianne

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