An engineer at Northwestern University in partnership with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in the US has developed a new stretchable bandage-like electronic sensor designed to help in stroke recovery.

The sensor sticks directly to the patients’ skin and provides detailed health information about heart function, muscle activity and quality of sleep.

“Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients’ bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve,” said the engineer, Professor John Rogers.

When attached to a stroke patient’s throat, the sensor can measures their swallowing ability and patterns of speech, making it easier for doctors to diagnose aphasia, a communication disorder associated with stroke.

The sensor can distinguish between patients’ voices and ambient noise by measuring vibrations of the vocal chords, a great improvement to traditional tools that speech-language pathologists use to monitor patients’ speech function – such as microphones.

“Our sensors solve that problem by measuring vibrations of the vocal cords. But they only work when worn directly on the throat, which is a very sensitive area of the skin. We developed novel materials for this sensor that bend and stretch with the body, minimising discomfort to patients,” said Professor Rogers.

The sensor was developed using novel materials that bend and stretch in accordance to the body to minimise discomfort. The wireless sensors and the size of the patch mean that patients can wear the sensor outside of the hospital, allowing doctors to monitor patients in the real world.

“One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Research Scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and a wearable technology expert, Arun Jayaraman.

“With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients,” continued Jayaraman.

According to Professor Rogers, the data generated from the sensor is precise enough to be used in advanced medical care. The data is presented in a dashboard that is easy for both clinicians and patients to understand. It also sends alerts when patients are underperforming on a certain metric and allows them to set and track progress toward their goals.

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