Scientists Develop New Technology for Stroke Rehabilitation

April 5, 2011

Devices which could be used to rehabilitate the arms and hands of people who have experienced a stroke have been developed.

Devices which could be used to rehabilitate the arms and hands of people who have experienced a stroke have been developed by researchers. In a paper presented at the Institution of Engineering and Technology Assisted Living Conference, Geoff Merrett, PhD, a lecturer in electronic systems and devices, described the design and evaluation of three technologies which could help people who are affected by stroke to regain movement in their hand and arm.

Merrett, of the University Southampton in the United Kingdom, worked with Sara Demain, PhD, a lecturer in physiotherapy and Cheryl Metcalf, PhD, a researcher in electronic systems and devices, to develop three “tactile” devices that generate a realistic sense of touch and sensation mimicking those involved in everyday activities.

“Most stroke rehabilitation systems ignore the role of sensation and they only allow people repetitive movement,” Demain said in a statement. “Our aim is to develop technology which provides people with a sense of holding something or of feeling something, like, for example, holding a hot cup of tea, and we want to integrate this with improving motor function.”

Three tactile devices were developed and tested on patients who had had a stroke and on healthy participants. The devices were: a “vibration” tactile device, which users felt provided a good indication of touch but did not really feel as if they were holding anything; a “motor-driven squeezer” device, which users said felt like they were holding something, a bit like catching a ball; and a “shape memory alloy” device which has thermal properties and creates a sensation like picking up a cup of tea.

“We now have a number of technologies, which we can use to develop sensation,” Merrett added. “This technology can be used on its own as a stand-alone system to help with sensory rehabilitation or it could be used alongside existing health technologies such as rehabilitation robots or gaming technologies which help patient rehabilitation.”