These wearables ‘gamify’ rehab after a stroke

Sensors in the jacket measure arm placement. (Credit: NYU)

Wearable devices that link to smartphones could make the repetitive rehab exercises after a stroke a little less tedious.

When a person performs an exercise assigned by a physician or physical therapist, microcontrollers quantify the action—measuring grip strength, for example—and display that information via the smartphone to both the patient and medical provider.

wearable device for stroke rehab
(Credit: NYU)
finger trainer for stroke rehab
The finger trainer, made of pleasant, compliant material, allows the stroke victim to monitor his or her exercises, comparing the progress in mimicking the movement of the affected hand to that of the unaffected side of the body. (Credit: NYU)

Rather than mindlessly repeat the exercise, patients engage in a virtual reality game that allows them to observe the performance of the unaffected side of the body and mimic the same performance on the affected side.

Rehabilitation in a clinical setting renders patients dependent on caregivers and therapists, but using smartphone technology allows stroke survivors to make great strides within their own homes, boosting morale and motivating them to continue rehabilitating their stroke-related disabilities.

“Smartphone-integrated stroke rehabilitation is a marked improvement over the conventional treatment programs of the past,” says Vikram Kapila, a professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Kapila guided the students who developed the system.

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“The medical community acknowledges that while the central nervous system is highly adaptive and has the ability to regain functions with concerted effort, a patient must assiduously practice those regained skills,” adds Kapila. “This makes stroke rehab a long and sometimes trying ordeal. Providing patients with immediate feedback and placing that feedback in the context of a virtual reality game that they can use within their own homes is definitely encouraging and motivational.”

Because the microcontrollers are attached to easy-to-wear garments, exercising can be seamlessly integrated into a patient’s day-to-day activities rather than treated as a separate, unwelcome task. Additionally, the cost-effective system, which the students project will sell for under $1,000, provides measurement results correlating to existing research-standard devices selling for eight times that amount.

The team recently took third place in BMEidea, a US competition for biomedical and bioengineering students. The annual challenge is sponsored by VentureWell, a nonprofit higher education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions.

Next steps for the students include forming a company with the patent-pending technology and launching a startup at the NYU Tandon new-business incubators. They are currently refining their prototype and expect soon to begin working with several stroke survivors.

Source: NYU