Novel device to help paralysis patients exercise easily

Researchers have developed a simple device that can act as a virtual physiotherapist and improve the ability of patients with arm disability to exercise using physiotherapy-like computer games.

Arm weaknesses impairs people’s ability to carry out daily activities and requires expensive long-term care.
The low-cost device, with the trade name gripAble, consists of a lightweight electronic handgrip, which interacts wirelessly with a standard PC tablet to enable the user to play arm-training games.

“The use of mobile-gaming could provide a cost-effective and easily available means to improve the arm movements of stroke patients,” said lead researcher Paul Bentley, senior lecturer at Imperial College, London.

To use it, patients squeeze, turn or lift the handgrip, and it vibrates in response to their performance whilst playing.

The device uses a novel mechanism, which can detect the tiny flicker movements of severely paralysed patients and channel them into controlling a computer game, the researchers said.

The device improves arm and cognitive function of patients who have mild to severe arm weaknesses and can also be used unsupervised in hospitals and independently by patients at home, Bentley added.

Researchers have shown that the device enabled more than half of the severely disabled patients in the study to engage with the arm-training software, whereas none of the patients were able to use conventional control methods such as swiping and tapping on tablets and smartphones.

Using the device increased the proportion of paralysed stroke patients able to direct movements on a tablet screen by 50 per cent compared to standard methods.

Further, the study showed that 93 per cent of patients were able to make meaningful movements to direct the cursor as a result of using gripAble.

The potential of gripAble as a means of delivering cost-effective physiotherapy was also recognised by a NHS England Innovation Challenge Prize in early 2016.

The findings appear in the paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.