Each year, technologies initially intended for space exploration come into our everyday lives - if you still haven't tried Tang or pens that write upside down, you are living in a cave.
One innovation, which physicians for astronauts have shared with their terrestrial brethren, is a special suit called “Penguin.” After minor modifications, the “Penguin” suit has become the “Regent” suit and turns out to be an efficient therapeutic agent for rehabilitation of patients after a stroke.
Hypokinetic motor syndrome developed with cosmonauts who stayed for long periods in the weightlessness of orbit. Due to the lack of gravitation and habitual physical activity, the cosmonaut’s muscles atrophied, sensorimotor functions were impaired and their vertebral columns lost natural curves - they got taller but not in a good way.
To solve those problems, specialists of the Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems developed a special suit called “Penguin”, which cosmonauts wear during lengthy flights. The suit creates artificial axial load on musculoskeletal apparatus, thus compensating for the lack of motion activity.
Basic research has proved that sensorimotor functions abnormalities observed with cosmonauts are surprisingly similar to impairments which occur with people on the Earth after a stroke or a craniocerebral trauma. Except unlike astronatuts, approximately 75% to 80% of persons who suffer a stroke or a craniocerebral trauma lose ability to work permanently and become invalids.
Specialists of the Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems have adapted the space suit to the needs of terrestrial patients and created the “Regent” medicinal suit based on it. It consists of a vest, shorts and knee-caps – and that's it.
The suit foundation is elastic loading elements and weight-lifting recoil. They are fixed on the supporting structure and produce controlled influences on certain muscle groups. The muscles that receive the loading send a signal to the cerebrum which gives them a response command to contract or relax. Thus, neuronal bonds (which were lost due to a stroke or a craniocerebral trauma) are restored or formed anew.
Recently bedridden patients still have to re-learn walking but their rehabilitation goes much quicker and with higher success than patients undergoing a traditional rehabilitation course.
The ten-year clinical trials of the medicinal suit, which finished at the end of last year, proved that the patients who had done exercises every day for 10 to 15 days in the “Regent” suit (depending on their age – from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours) significantly increased their dynamical stability and decreased the paresis degree as compared to the reference group patients, rehabilitated by traditional methods.
After the medicinal suit treatment, 47% patients could move easily, while the reference group contained only 25% of such patients. One of the clinics participating in the trials of the “Regent” suit reported several years of improving not only motor but also language functions of the patients. However, this effect still needs to be thoroughly investigated.
Commenting on impressive success in treating stroke/craniocerebral trauma consequences with the help of the “Regent” suit, Irina Sayenko, senior staff scientist, Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems, has noted that, according to patients’ references, no simulator provides such clear positive motivation – the mood for recovery is born in patients, they overcome the fear of falling, they start feeling their own extremities. This is quite natural, the “Regent” construction contains no rigid, sharp elements that cause anxiety with the patients who just began to master walking again.
The medicinal suit itself can be used in a hospital department but also for out-patient treatment, and its “modular” construction enables patient’s relatives to “pack” the patients into the suit within several minutes.
The medicinal suit is not a magic bullet against the consequences of strokes and craniocerebral traumas. Researchers and physicians point out that patient rehabilitation with the help of the “Regent” suit is efficient only in complex with traditional massage and physiotherapy exercises.