20 February 2018
A sensor could be a ‘game-changer’ in the field of stroke rehabilitation, says researchers from Northwestern University and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.
The stretchable, wearable device is designed to be worn on the throat and move with the body, providing detailed health metrics, including 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,” professor John Rogers of Northwestern University, says. “The key is to make them as integrated as possible with the human body.”
The bandage-like sensor is said to measures patients’ swallowing ability and patterns of speech. The hope is that it will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia, a communication disorder associated with strokes.
Rogers explains that the tools speech-language pathologists have traditionally used to monitor patients’ speech function are unable to distinguish between patients’ voices and ambient noise.
“Our sensors solve that problem by measuring vibrations of the vocal chords,” he claims. “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.”
Researchers at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab experimented with the device in conjunction with electronic biosensors.
The intermodal system of sensors is said to stream data wirelessly to clinicians’ phones and computers, providing a quantitative, full-body picture of patients’ advanced physical and physiological responses in real time.
“One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Arun Jayaraman, research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.
However, Roger’s sensor is wireless, which means it can be worn even after the patient leaves the hospital. The idea is that this will eliminate the barriers posed by traditional health monitoring devices in clinical settings, allowing doctors to understand how their patients are functioning in the real world.
“With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients,” Jayaraman continues.
“Talking with friends and family at home is a completely different dimension from what we do in therapy,” adds Leora Cherney, research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. “Having a detailed understanding of patients’ communication habits outside of the clinic helps us develop better strategies with our patients to improve their speaking skills and speed up their recovery process.”
According to the researchers, the data from the sensors will be presented in a dashboard and send alerts when patients are underperforming on a certain metric. This means goals can be set and progress tracked.
Rogers is now collaborating with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to test the sensors on patients with other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.