Exoskeleton Improves MS Patient's Walking Ability

Getting back in motion, one step at a time. Mary Beth Merz, of Strongsville, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, but had been showing signs of MS at least 10 years prior. "I had double vision. Had a hard time seeing things."

The former school teacher and stay-at-home mother of four’s reduced vision would ultimately lead to fatigue and weakness on the lower right side of her body; limiting her ability to walk. "I could not move my leg, lift my knee up and I would have drop foot and so I would swing it out, to clear and do different things," Merz said.

This past summer, Merz became one of five patients to participate in a unique, Cleveland Clinic study aimed at improving their ability to walk.

In the study, participants wear a battery-powered robotic suit called an Exoskeleton for one hour a day, three days a week.

"All they have to do is trigger the steps and then the device makes the step for them, makes the legs move. People's ability to train when they have MS is limited, they get tired very easily, sometimes their MS symptoms tend to worsen temporarily with exercise or with over-heating," said Dr. Francois Bethox, who leads the study.

But the Exoskeleton technology helps to push the ability to exercise further, leading to positive results, improving a patient’s quality of life. "I set how long her step is, how high she steps, how far apart her feet are, all of the settings I made in the device for her," said physical therapist Janette Tartabini.

After just six weeks, Merz is already seeing results, making time with family even more special. "Hopefully, it will also get me to be able to do more of my physical therapy and strengthen other parts of my body."

Cleveland Clinic researchers are hoping in the near future these robotic devices could be made available in local gyms so that people can include them in their weekly exercise routines, under the supervision of a physical trainer.

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