As wearables delve further and further into the realm of treatment (in addition to mere tracking), scientists are finding more and more innovative ways to integrate medicine into technology. The latest in this trend appears to be a wireless sleeve that may help stroke victims recover mobility in their arms and hands. Developed by researchers at Southampton University, this smart sleeve seeks to provide data regarding muscle movement and strength as its wearer engages in everyday at-home tasks. This information will then be transmitted to a computer, tablet, or mobile device so that both the patient and his or her doctor can monitor progress, allowing for a more tailored rehabilitation approach.
The project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research to the tune of $1.4 million, is expected to span the course of two years and will involve scientists from across the United Kingdom. The Imperial College London, as well as medical technology consultancies Maddison and Tactiq will be collaborating to bring this concept to term. But this large-scale investment is expected to pay off in a major way, especially considering the number of individuals such a device could positively impact. “About 150,000 people in the U.K. have a stroke each year and, despite improvements in acute care that results in better survival rates, about 60 percent of people with moderate to severe strokes fail to recover useful function of their arm and hand,” said Jane Burridge, professor of restorative neuroscience at Southampton.
“Stroke rehabilitation is increasingly home-based, as patients are often discharged from hospital after only a few days,” she added, noting that such a practice “encourages independence” among patients. Still, she admits, “some patients struggle to carry out the exercises and they may question whether what they are doing is correct. Similarly therapists don’t have objective measurements about their patients’ muscle activity or ability to move.” But with the new smart sleeve, Burridge and her team hope to address the problems on both sides of the equation.
The sleeve is expected to be the first to combine mechanomyography (MMG) microphone-like sensors, which detect muscle vibrations upon contraction, with movement sensors like tri-axial accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers that detect movement. “We hope that our sleeve will help stroke patients regain the use of their arm and hand, reduce time spent with therapists and allow them to have the recommended 45 minutes daily therapy more flexibly,” Burridge concluded. It will also be used to assess patients’ problems accurately as well as more cheaply and practically than using laboratory-based technologies.”