People recovering from strokes can often find rehabilitation very frustrating. They try to move their hand in a certain way, for instance, but it just won’t do it – why not? That’s where a new system known as the Synergistic Physio-Neuro Platform (SynPhNe) comes into the picture. It guides patients through exercises, monitors their performance, and lets them know why they’re unable to perform certain tasks. They can then use that knowledge to self-correct their actions, instead of just getting exasperated.

SynPhNe (“symphony” – get it?) is being developed by Dr. John Heng and his PhD student Banerji Subhasis, at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. It’s designed for stroke patients who have lost the full use of one arm, and who have gone as far as they can with conventional therapy.

The system consists of a headset and an arm band, both of which are wired into a computer running custom software. As the patient tries to follow along with on-screen arm movement videos, neural sensors in the headset monitor their brain activity, while sensors in the arm band keep track of muscular activity in their afflicted arm.

Whenever they’re not able to do something, the program uses the sensor readings to determine why, and then explains it to them. “For example, if a patient wants to move his wrist, but his wrist is not moving, SynPhNe will be able to show him that his mind had sent out a signal, his muscles have received it, but because supporting and opposing muscles are clenched, he will need to relax the opposing muscle in order to move his wrist,” said Subhasis. “Another common problem is that the patient may feel stressed while undergoing therapy, which affects his muscle control. So by showing the stress level on the screen, SynPhNe will teach the patient how to control his breathing and posture to regain his balance and composure so that he can continue with the exercises.”

So far, ten patients have used the system for a total of 12 90-minute sessions spread over the course of four weeks. All of them reportedly showed some improvement, with several experiencing improvements of up to 70 percent in hand strength and hand control.

In upcoming trials, Heng and Subhasis plan on testing SynPhNe on at least 50 other patients. From there, they hope to start up a spin-off company to commercialize the technology, so it can be made available for in-home use. Via a Wi-Fi connection, it could then conceivably keep therapists apprised of their patients’ progress, without the need for frequent visits to a clinic.

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