Generation Y’s latest telecommunication accessories are being used to help their grandparents overcome disabilities caused by stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
For the first time, iPhones and iPod Touch have been clinically tested by patients who have lost the use of their hands and fingers, as simple, inexpensive and convenient assessment tools for manual dexterity.
Alison Barne is a final year student in engineering (mechatronics) and neuroscience and wanted to combine them in a hands-on project.
“Loss of manual dexterity can cause serious difficulties for people trying to complete everyday tasks,” Alison said.
“Medical practitioners need to be able to target specific rehabilitation programs for people who have something like Parkinson’s disease or who have had a stroke. Current assessment tools can be expensive and cumbersome and might only test a few aspects of hand skill.”
Alison, co-supervised by Associate Professor Adrian Keating, a mechatronics specialist from Mechanical Engineering and Professor Gary Thickbroom from the Australian Neuromuscular Research Institute, created an application to run on an iPhone or an iPod that can test three different hand and finger movements, as well as a customised docking station including a force transducer.
As the user completes the tests on the iPhone or iPod, the system records the accuracy, time between movements and force of the actions, recording results in the patient’s file.
“The system can test individual, sequential and coordinated finger movements of both hands,” Alison said. “It will provide clinicians with quantitative results to improve the rehabilitation of the hand and has huge potential for future development.
“The program can be downloaded onto an iPhone or iPod, and if patients don’t have one, it could be loaned to them by the hospital,” she said.
Alison received ethics approval to run a clinical trial under the supervision of Professor Thickbroom and occupational therapist Vera Riley at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. More than 30 patients took part, including those with hand
injuries, stroke and Parkinson’s disease, and their feedback was very positive.
“A lot of rehabilitation work is quite tedious but with this system, the patients can see how they’re improving and it encourages them to keep on going. They don’t have to wait for an appointment with the doctor or the OT
as they can complete a lot of the rehabilitation in their own home.”
A/Professor Keating said most of the patients in the trial were elderly and he had worried about their reaction to using iPhone and iPod. “But the response was extremely positive. Just over 90 per cent of them said yes or maybe when asked if they would like to use it as a rehabilitative device,” he said.
Another final year student will continue Alison’s project next year: focusing on miniaturising the docking station for the iPhone and making it lighter and more portable.