Mechanical Engineers at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville are developing wearable sensors that can measure the functional motor ability in those who have suffered a stroke.

The project is being led by Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering at UT, Eric Wade, in partnership with the Brain and Spine Institute at UT Medical Center, Dr Russ Langdon, the Neuroscience Network of East Tennessee and UT’s Office of Research and Engagement.

The project is being funded by the National Institutes of Health and Pain Consultants of East Tennessee helped to connect the researchers to stroke patients and other individuals with brain and spinal issues.

The new wearable sensors are intended to track how stroke survivors use their upper limbs when they aren’t being observed or supervised by their doctor because, as the team found out during their study, stroke patients can tend to overstate the amount of rehab that they do on their own.

“It’s much the same way that someone might tell their doctor that they are watching what they eat, or that they are getting plenty of exercise when they really aren’t,” said Wade.

“Many stroke patients were finding ways to compensate for the motor skills they’d lost rather than doing the rehab work they needed to be doing, with the result being that their recovery took much longer if it happened at all,” continued Wade.

The team’s project focus has been on the quality of exercise done, not just the amount done. Through their qualitative monitoring approach, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how individual exercises affect patients.

This will allow researchers and medical personnel to better predict which activities are most beneficial to specific patients on a case-by-case basis, leading to improved patient treatment plans.

“The most important thing is the ability to build models that can predict health outcomes. That would give everyone involved better tools for prescribing patient treatments,” said Wade.

In the future, Wade and his team plan to use their sensors to design technology that would specifically improve motor ability. Such improvements would help stroke patients as well as anyone with motor skill impairment, such as patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

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