Rehab glove prototype (via Georgia Tech)
For people recovering from a spinal cord injury (SCI), the rehabilitation process is both long and daunting. Some lose a limited amount of feeling or movement in their hands due to injuries such as tetraplegia (AKA quadriplegia or the partial or total loss of use in their limbs and torso) which makes accomplishing the simplest of tasks almost impossible. This loss of hand function accounts for 47% of SCI patients out of 11,000 per year and while surgery can restore limited function for those lucky or eligible enough to receive it most are left with limited options (which is why most recovery and rehabilitation involves some psychiatric counseling).
Researchers from Georgia Tech have designed a therapeutic rehabilitation device that could give SCI victims increased movement and feeling in their hands and is centered on learning to play the piano. The team developed their design, called Mobile Music Touch, around a specialized glove that is equipped with individual motors that vibrates a person’s fingers in conjunction with a keyboard that lights up the keys needed to be played. The MMT device was designed to be used with a computer, smartphone or MP3 player where the user can program the songs they want to learn for their rehab process. Specialized software then encodes those songs and sends the information to the keyboard and wirelessly to the glove which vibrates the corresponding finger for the note needed for play.
During the teams study, led by researchers Thad Starner, Ellen Yi-Luen Do and Deborah Backus (director of the multiple sclerosis research at Shepherd Center), the team found that those who wore the glove outside the rehab center for a few hours a day without playing the piano (just had it vibrate) were able to learn the songs more easily as opposed to those who participated at the rehab center alone. This process stimulates the brain and corresponding muscle reflexes that sometimes goes dormant after a prolong period of non-use after patients suffer a spinal injury. The team noted that during their MMT study period, some participants were able grasp and pick up objects more easily and could distinguish heat emanating from a cup of coffee immediately, rather than a delayed sensation. This study was done with patients who have had a form of SCI (dealing with the hands) for over a year or more and looks to be a promising option for limb recovery in the future. Not only do they get the rehabilitation, but they can receive it in a more fun atmosphere that isn’t monotonous, as well as gaining the ability to play a musical instrument.