Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Rosanne van Dijsseldonk (Donders series 502)

7 May 2021

Promotors: prof. dr. A.C.H. Geurts
Co-promotors: dr. N.L.W. Keijsers, dr. I.J.W. van Nes

Step into the future: Mobility after spinal cord injury

This thesis investigates two interventions aimed at increasing mobility in people with spinal cord injury (SCI): 1) treadmill training in a virtual environment for people with limited walking capacity following an incomplete SCI and 2) exoskeleton use for people without walking ability after a complete SCI.
After the treadmill training, people with an incomplete SCI walked faster, made bigger steps and improved their forward walking stability. These effects were still present six months after the intervention. Based on these results, we conclude that virtual reality-based treadmill training is effective in improving mobility in people with incomplete SCI.
Exoskeleton use offers people with a complete SCI the prospect of vertical mobility, in this case the ability to stand and walk. Learning to use an exoskeleton is time consuming and the amount of training needed for exoskeleton skill acquisition differs strongly from person to person. During a period of home and community use, the exoskeleton was mainly used outdoors for exercise purposes. The exoskeleton was also regularly used in social situations. Participants noted that the exoskeleton training program sufficiently prepared them for this home and community use, but exoskeleton improvements would be needed so that the exoskeleton can be used for the ultimate goal of most people: use for mobility in everyday life.