Every year in the U.S. more than 795,000 people suffer a stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of annual victims in the U.K. exceeds 150,000, according to Dr. Rachel C. Stokely, of the Manchester Metropolitan University, and 1.2 million people in the U.K. live with the consequences of strokes. On-going work with stroke therapy — helping patients regain strength and balance in walking — is making progress with the use of haptic bracelets.
The haptic bracelets are worn on the ankles: sometimes both wrists and ankles. They use vibrations to signal patients to move their legs at the proper times. The bracelets were originally developed at The Open University’s Music Computing Lab for musicality applications. Since 2011, Dr. Stockley has been involved with the Open University as they continue to improve the bracelets for medical application. The original versions were connected by wires which made them awkward to use, but now they included wireless communication support.
The prospect of improved quality of life for stroke victims motivates the team working on the project. “Whilst advances in medical treatment mean that many people are more likely to survive strokes and have improved outcomes, walking and specifically walking in the community, continues to be a significant problem for over half of all stroke survivors,” said Dr. Stockley. The haptic bracelets improve mobility training for stroke victims, which leads to reduced isolation and a reduction in secondary health problems due to sedentary lifestyles.
Further development with the aim of eventually producing commercial versions of the haptic bracelets continues with the Open University and technology firm Lucid Innovation. The group has received funding from the Greater Manchester Academic Health Sciences Network’s Technology Innovation Challenge. The plan is to get additional input from stroke survivors and clinical physiotherapists to be sure it’s practical and wearable before commercial release. It’s been a long development road, but the final result may mean improved quality of life for many stroke survivors.