Stroke rehabilitation is typically a lengthy, costly process. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year. In the Netherlands, strokes occur to 45,000 people annually. Worldwide the number of stroke victims each year is estimated at 33 million. People who survive strokes have to learn how to cope with related physical limitations assisted by rehabilitation programs. Rehab training usually takes place in clinics, so there is little data on how people use the training in their homes and how their disability impacts their daily living activities.
Advances in battery technology, wearables, smart e-textiles, and big data analysis may have the solution to improving stroke rehab. Bart Klassen, a Ph.D. Student at the University of Twente in the Netherlands worked with a consortium of healthcare professionals, engineers, and insurance companies to develop the first “stroke suit.” The Interaction Systems is a set of underclothes plus a pair of booties that track and report muscle strength, how much backs and hands stretch, and how much force is applied to the soles of the wearers’ feet. The wearable includes 41 sensors from shoulders to feet: two scapula strain sensors; one spine goniometer; two EMG electrodes, 14 inertial measurement units; two knee goniometers, and two shoe insole force sensors. Data from the sensors transmits via an Internet-connected portable device to servers at the University of Twente for analysis. The Interaction System was tested with subjects who wore the stroke suit under their clothes for three months. According to Klassen, the study demonstrated that the suit was able to record relevant movements, resulting in information in a form for therapists to maximize the benefits of rehabilitation exercises.
Further research on the stroke suit and the related data analysis system is needed to “obtain final verification that these methods are indeed an ideal way of supervising rehabilitation,” Klassen said. Continuous at-home monitoring to measure how patients actually move in the real world, not just while working with a therapist in a clinical setting has the promise of making rehab more efficient and the potential of saving treatment time and cost. The greatest benefit will be to help stroke patients regain the highest possible levels of movement and control in the least amount of time.