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How an exoskeleton can deliver life-changing moments

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The use of exoskeletons is rising globally

“Being able to stand, take steps and be at eye level with people was amazing. It was exciting and emotional.”

For patients who have lived with the effects of immobility for years – such as this patient, who has been a paraplegic for 18 years – the introduction of an exoskeleton to their lives can have truly life-changing consequences.

“We’ve had clients who, through using the exoskeleton, can walk their children to school for the first time,” says Matt White, a specialist in neurorehabilitation and technology, and exoskeleton lead at PhysioFunction.

“It’s a special moment, and psychologically it can be huge.

“It’s not a magic wand, but the impact of being able to move around on their feet, at eye level, can be very important in someone’s outlook and ongoing rehabilitation.”

And with the use of exoskeletons rising globally, including their adoption by many specialist physio practices in the UK, this opportunity is being embraced by many more people who have lost the ability to walk unaided.

From those with paraplegia, through to people who have experienced movement problems through brain injury or stroke, the use of an exoskeleton can benefit them greatly.

The ReWalk is one of the most widely used models, and can be worn at home and out in the community, rather than being confined solely to the physiotherapy clinic.

Mimicking the natural gait pattern of the legs, it allows users to walk independently, enabling people with spinal cord injury to stand upright, walk, turn and even climb and descend stairs.

At PhysioFunction, the neurophysiotherapy business where Matt is based, they also offer the REX and FREEWalk exoskeletons, and are believed to be the only practice in the country to have three different models.

“The exoskeletons can each support patients through a range of recovery needs and goals,” he says.

“The REX works well for many people, and can support those who have no arm function and enable them to develop improved standing tolerance, whereas the FREEWalk lends itself to retraining walking and balance.

“It helps to educate people in strengthening their bodies, who have been really unstable previously, they can now stabilise and move more safely.

“So while they can help people achieve goals in the short term, such as going on the walk to school or walking round a shop, longer-term it is helping to support a person’s recovery, as part of a more holistic physiotherapy programme.”

While increasing numbers of people are gaining access to exoskeletons, the ongoing restriction to them being more widely available remains the price point.

“It is a huge investment to make and the expense is undeniably a barrier,” says Matt.

“I’m not sure I can see them coming down in price hugely, the cost is always going to be high, but the fact that there are a few physiotherapy practices dotted around nationally which now have an exoskeleton is helping to increase access.

“While the sessions are more expensive than usual physio sessions due to the cost of the equipment involved, the use of an exoskeleton can have many benefits for clients.

“At PhysioFunction, we have three, and this has been a very significant investment for us to make, but the positive impact they are having on our clients, their lives and their rehabilitation is clear.”

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New company launched to drive forward Parkinson’s research

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Up to £800,000 will be invested over the next two years

Charity Parkinson’s UK is to launch a new company dedicated to driving forward research into Parkinson’s disease.

Vivifi Biotech has been created to lead and plan preparations for a new trial into the role of the restorative protein glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in Parkinson’s.

Launched through the charity’s drug development arm, Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, up to £800,000 will be invested over the next two years as efforts continue to find a life-changing new treatment for people living with the disease.

Plans for a new trial build on the initial groundbreaking clinical investigations in GDNF, the results of which proved inconclusive but did show some signs that the treatment may have started to regenerate participants’ dopamine-producing brain cells.

“The unwavering passion and determination of the GDNF participant group has ensured that the potential of GDNF, and the role of patients in research, has never been forgotten,” says Paul Jackson Clark, director of engagement at Parkinson’s UK.

“They’ve tirelessly campaigned, fundraised and shared their experience with us, enabling us all to get to this monumental point.

“We now have the chance to see if we can find a life-changing new treatment that people with Parkinson’s desperately need. There are still plenty of obstacles but this announcement gives us the opportunity to move things forward together.”

Parkinson’s UK was the major funder of the initial trial, which investigated whether boosting levels of GDNF could slow, stop or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s.

Tom Phipps was a participant in the GDNF trial.

“My outcome was as positive as I could have wished for, I feel the trial brought me some time and has delayed the progress of my condition,” he says.

“The trial participants have always believed in GDNF’s potential,” said Parkinson’s UK in their announcement.

“So have we and the other organisations involved in the trial.

“Some participants tell us they’re still experiencing the benefits, years on from undergoing this experimental therapy. We’ve been working with them since the end of the trial.

“Together, we want to make sure we’ve explored every option.”

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Community rehab

Music group launched to support BAME community

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Leicester Musical Memory Box is launching its online music project Geet Sangeet

A music group established to support people living with dementia, memory loss and brain injury has received funding to launch an online project for the South Asian and BAME community.

Leicester Musical Memory Box (LMMBox) was founded in July 2018, and since that time has grown from one group in the city to six, providing interactive music sessions for people of all ages and backgrounds, including a group specific to the South Asian community.

The group – which has two staff members who are fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu – aims to provide the local community with a supportive network and a safe space to explore the unique challenges that a brain injury may bring to individuals, as well as their families and carers.

The new online music project is named ‘Geet Sangeet’ – translated as ‘Songs Sung Together’ – and will incorporate music and cultural references specific to the South Asian community, led by group leader Beena Masand from LMMBox.

Each session will begin with gentle exercises to warm up the body and brain, followed by singing and discussion about various music, songs, and media.

Attendees will also receive their own ‘musical memory box’ in a bag to help increase the interactivity of the sessions.

The project has received funding from the new Local Connections Fund, and is in collaboration with Headway Leicester.

Music has proven benefits for people with memory problems or a brain injury, including enabling people to connect with past experience and enabling freedom of expression, confidence and independence.

Attendance at the groups also helps to improve mood and reduce feelings of social isolation.

“We know we are providing a vital service to our members and receive enquiries regularly,” says Kyle Newman, group leader and co-director of LMMBox.

“In spite of the lockdown, we are thrilled to be able to once again provide a culturally specific group for the South Asian community.

“We also know that the group leader needs to come from that community and have the music and cultural knowledge to be able to engage participants effectively.”

“We are delighted to collaborate with LMMBox and reach out to more people across Leicester who have been affected by brain injury,” adds Mary Goulty, service manager at Headway Leicester.

“There is a clear need for a support service within the BAME community and that’s why we launched our BAME group last year, which is providing a vital lifeline to brain injury survivors we support and their families.”

To contact LMMBox, visit www.leicestermusicalmemorybox.co.uk

For support with brain injury in the Leicester community, visit www.headwayleicester.org.uk.

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News

Art Therapy offers an emotional outlet for those living with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

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Masks not only allow us to hide our true feelings but to also express them without fear of judgement.

Being able to ‘hide’ one’s true self, may be a way, for others, to truly ‘show’ themselves.

For this reason, Chroma therapists began delivering Art Therapy sessions online to those living with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in an attempt to help them express their emotions in a creative, non-threatening way.

A TBI can have devastating effects upon a person’s mental health, as well as physical, with emotional issues caused by significant, sudden changes in appearance and abilities.

Studies have found Art Therapy to be effective in helping TBI patients with emotional expression, socialisation, emotional adaptation to mental and physical disabilities, and communication in a creative and non-threatening way.1

Self-expression is fundamental in processing the effects of a TBI. Take a look at the image below.

On the left is the base mask. During the process of art therapy, across a number of sessions, the participant talks, reflects and begins to create ideas or metaphors which then get placed onto the base mask. Often this depicts the face he presents to the outside world, in contrast with the dual parts of to his inner personality including a bright peaceful side and a dark, tumultuous side.

Based on the sessions, Chroma therapists are better able to gauge the patient’s feelings, discuss the final piece and help the patient begin to process their emotions.

In effect, art therapy offers a creative gateway to communication and used in this way, tries to enable the participant to externalise their inner thoughts and feelings.

As a therapy, it has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress, promote creativity and imagination as well as increase self-expression, confidence and communication.

Chroma began delivering these sessions as a way to allow clients to reveal thoughts and feelings about themselves which they may find hard to express, or may not even be aware of, and which may be being expressed through more difficult behaviours.

They also create an opportunity for greater communication, allowing therapists to gain a deeper understanding of the client’s thoughts, anxieties and feelings.

Being able to express themselves creatively helps the client reveal their true feelings, which in itself can be cathartic – a relief to release their emotions, in a personal, safe space.

Chroma continues to deliver these sessions online to help reach as many TBI sufferers across the UK as possible in an attempt to help them begin to process their emotions concerning the effects the TBI had upon them, with the outlook to help improve their mental wellbeing which in turn will help promote a positive outlook to life and rehabilitation outcomes.

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