How did they do it? Patients underwent a multi-phase rehabilitation program over 12 months, with total training time reaching 1,958 hours over all eight patients. The first stage took 178.5 hours on average, where they had to make a virtual reality set of legs walk and sleeves on their arms provided sensory feedback. This was repeated for another 30 hours while standing. Participants "passed" these stages when EEG readings could pick up that their brains remembered how to walk. Then the real walking began: first with a robotic exoskeleton and body weight support (BWS) on a treadmill (109 hours); then BWS on the ground (51 hours); then just the exoskeleton and a treadmill (143 hours); and finally just the exoskeleton (70 hours). A total of 581.5 hours.
|VR headsets have improved too. Source: Minecraftpsyco|
Taking long breaks reversed some of the improvements, but could they ever be permanent? Other research on people learning to read Braille on weekdays showed that their brains' "maps" for the Braille-reading fingers initially grew during the week, but shrunk back to "normal" by Mondays. The "map" sizes on Monday didn't start to keep growth until six months, and then slowly improved over the next four months. In terms of hours of practice, it was 600 hours - two to three hours a day, five days a week for 10 months. This is similar to the paraplegic patients' training time, but walking may take longer to be permanently re-learned. Maybe home-based programs, so people with spinal injuries could train every day, would be best to prevent the setbacks caused by breaks. There are already exoskeletons available for purchase, with variety of products going up and costs going down; however suitability comes down to the individual's needs. In conclusion, there is hope, practical hope, for people suffering from spinal cord injuries, and it's happening now.