Tactile devices could improve stroke rehabilitation

Researchers at Southampton University have developed devices that could be used to rehabilitate people who have experienced a stroke.

Dr Geoff Merrett from Southampton’s school of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) developed three tactile devices that generate a realistic sense of touch and sensation, which could help people who are affected by stroke to regain movement in their hand and arm.

Merrett worked with Dr Sara Demain from the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Dr Cheryl Metcalf, who works across Health Sciences and ECS, to develop the devices, which were then tested on patients who had experienced a stroke.

’Most stroke rehabilitation systems ignore the role of sensation and they only allow people repetitive movement,’ said Demain. ’Our aim is to develop technology that provides people with a sense of holding something or of feeling something and we want to integrate this with improving motor function.’

The devices include a ’vibration’ tactile device, which provided a good indication of touch, a ’motor-driven squeezer’ device, which provided a sense that users were holding an object, and a ’shape memory alloy’ device, which had thermal properties and created a sensation like picking up a cup of tea.

’We now have a number of technologies that we can use to develop sensation,’ said Merrett. ’This technology can be used on its own as a standalone system to help with sensory rehabilitation or it could be used alongside existing health technologies, such as rehabilitation robots or gaming technologies, which help patient rehabilitation,’ Metcalf said.

The academics’ paper, entitled ’Design and Qualitative Evaluation of Tactile Devices for Stroke Rehabilitation’, was presented at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Assisted Living Conference.

A copy of the paper can be accessed at: http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/21802/