New wearable technology is being developed at the University of Southampton in the UK to help stroke survivors recover use of their arm and hand.

The project, which involves a team of scientists led by Professor of Restorative Neuroscience at Southampton, Professor Jane Burridge, aims to create a wireless wearable sleeve that will provide automatic, intelligent information about muscle movement and strength while patients practice every-day tasks at home.

The collected data will be available on a computer tablet to enable patients to review their progress as well as to allow therapists to monitor progress, diagnose specific movement problems and tailor their rehabilitation programme.

The two-year project is a collaboration between the University of Southampton and Imperial College London, two medical technology consultancies; Maddison and Tactiq and NHS Trusts in Bristol and Portsmouth. The project is being funded with a grant of just under £1 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) through its Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme.

“About 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year and, despite improvements in acute care that results in better survival rates, about 60 per cent of people with moderate to severe strokes fail to recover useful function of their arm and hand,” said Professor Burridge.

“Stroke rehabilitation is increasingly home-based, as patients are often discharged from hospital after only a few days. This policy encourages independence and avoids problems associated with prolonged hospital stays. However, 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. Rehabilitation technologies like our sleeve will address problems faced by both patients and therapists,” continued Professor Burridge.

The wearable technology incorporates mechanomyography (MMG) microphone-like sensors that detect the vibration of a muscle when it contracts, and inertial measurement units (IMU), comprising tri-axial accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers that detect movement.

Data from the two types of sensors will be put together and then unnecessary data, for example outside noise, will then be removed from the muscle signal.

“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. It will also be used to assess patients’ problems accurately as well as more cheaply and practically than using laboratory-based technologies,” said Professor Burridge.

Wearable prototypes and graphical user interfaces are currently being developed with plans to trial the device with patients from two NHS sites.

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