Home haptic feedback system could help stroke victims rebuild motor skills

A prototype of the system's hardware platform, which guides users through exercises designed to restore their fine-motor skills(Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Although stroke victims do receive some rehabilitative therapy while at the hospital, it's difficult for physiotherapists to track their progress once they've gone home. As a result, according to Prof. Thenkurussi Kesavadas at the University of Illinois, many of them end up declining in fine-motor abilities. That's why he's leading an effort to create a system that would allow them to continue supervised therapy, via their home computer.

The Cognitive Haptic-Based Rehabilitation System for Patient-Centric Home project (which also involves the University of Buffalo) is developing a low-cost system that consists of three parts: a haptic-feedback hardware platform located in the patient's home, a brain-machine interface that lets the system adapt therapy to the patient's level of effort, and a remote-access interface that allows an off-site therapist to monitor their progress and adjust therapy as needed.

Using the hardware platform and instructional animation on their computer screen, patients would go about performing a variety of exercises designed to restore their fine-motor skills – these would be based on observations of the motions of healthy test subjects, and would include activities that require the synchronization of the hand and fingers, to perform delicate movements. The device would vibrate or increase/decrease its resistance, in order to guide users.

It is hoped that once developed, the system could also be used for other types of occupational and physical therapy, or to help children with dysgraphia learn how to write.

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