Cerebral Palsy is the most common movement disorder in children. It can be caused in a number of different ways and has a variety of manifestations. The core of the affliction is the presence of lesions on the portions of the brain that are responsible for movement, balance, and posture and there is no known cure. The severity of the symptoms varies on a case-by-case basis and can range from overly stiff muscles to poor coordination to sensory impairments. The disorder manifests itself fairly early on, although it can sometimes remain diagnosed until after a child misses several important infant development milestones.
Despite the serious and, thus far, incurable nature of the disorder, there are a growing number of interventions and support mechanisms that can allow those affected to lead full lives. Many of the symptoms of cerebral palsy are not, in fact, disabling in and of themselves. Instead, what often occurs is that people with movement disorders become disabled by design. For example, if a person has a difficult time lifting their foot to step onto a raised sidewalk, they are disabled by the sidewalk. If, however, the sidewalk has a curb cut, the disability vanishes as the consequence of not being able to get onto the sidewalk is no longer present.
Design can also assist those with cerebral palsy through the creation of mechanisms that provide support or therapies. Yano de Laet was born with cerebral palsy and due to his doctor’s awareness of developments in 3D printed assistive devices, he is getting a little help from a new hands-free walker called the Hibbot. This device is an ergonomic walking assistance system that was designed as a collaboration between engineer Dirk Wenmakers and physiotherapist Ria Cuppers, whose work has now expanded to become the entity Medical Robots.
Working together with engineers from Materialise, using a specialized software for optimizing printed pieces, the engineers were able to hollow out the parts necessary for the walker and even printed them on their own in-house printers for Wenmakers. Rather than acting as a crutch, the Hibbot is an active component of physical therapy that holds the users hips and pelvis while being flexible enough to realign them as s/he walks to maintain alignment while walking. It also allows the user to have her/his hands free while walking and acts as a system for exercising his muscles.
Yano’s parents expressed his satisfaction with the invention and their wishes for their son, telling Materialise:
“We notice that for him this way of walking is much more demanding; he loves it but it’s also quite a workout because he needs to coordinate and use his muscles much more intensively to be able to walk.”
“We especially hope that Yano will remain a happy child,” the boy’s father continued, “that despite his handicap he will receive all possible chances to lead a great life, and that he comes as independent as possible.”
Discuss further in the 3D Printed Hibbot forum over at 3DPB.com.