For people with reduced mobility, technological improvements can be life-changing. While mobility aids such as wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, and scooters have existed for several years, their capacity to address a diverse set of needs is debatable. However, thanks to research and development, mobility devices, and innovative treatments are finding ways to solve problems beyond the basics.
Sending small electrical impulses to muscles improves the ability of paralyzed patients to walk again. Parastep uses Functional Neuromuscular Stimulation (FNS) to enable contractions in muscles that have atrophied. The electrical impulses can trigger the muscles and bypass damaged neurons. Patients move around with a small microcomputer, and support that helps them walk for short distances and sit upright. FNS is also beneficial for therapy and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries because it can train the muscles to resume walking in some patients.
For wheelchair users, the designs affect their overall ability to move between places, enter some buildings and also take commercial transport such as trains, buses, and flights. Compromising between comfort and portability is a hard decision for many wheelchair users. However, designers are taking these problems into account and creating more durable and comfortable wheelchairs.
Electric powered wheelchairs help a broader variety of people with reduced mobility to move and provide control over the speed with remote controls. The Forza folding electric wheelchair, for instance, helps patients drive between different terrain, but has the support to keep the passenger secure at all times. The design also folds into a suit-case like structure without disassembly, which is crucial, especially when the user needs to change their seats immediately or transport their wheelchair.
There is also the ongoing development of obstacle-avoidance systems for wheelchairs, just like in vehicles. Intelligent wheelchair designs can help users avoid obstacles that may not be in their vision and also stop to avoid a collision.
Professional support and assessment of people with disabilities are crucial to their treatment. Unfortunately, clients in remote areas may have no access to rehabilitation services. Like in other industries, the use of advanced communication tools improves the ability to coordinate work over long distances. Professional therapists use interactive platforms for video calls to help with therapy and also help patients continually learn without the need for long-distance travel.
Tele-rehabilitation is extremely useful for patients that need to consult with multiple professionals. Rather than have all the team members in one location, one therapist can set up the computer and project the video to others. Virtual reality can also help therapists deliver better guidance because they can create virtual models of patient’s homes. It can help them decide if mobility assistance devices such as wheelchairs can fit through specific spaces, before assigning them to patients.
Sensor-Device for pressure sores
Pressure sores are one of the biggest threats of remaining in a fixed position for long periods. The tissue in the affected area breaks down, primarily due to limited blood supply to the area. Unfortunately, people who are unconscious or have neural damage may not notice the pressure build-up and may require further treatment if left undetected for long. However, there are now sensor devices that alert users or caregivers to move. The sensors connect to apps and notify the user if the position has not changed for long.
The use of powered exoskeletons isn’t new to the healthcare industry. Improvements in robotics are helping experts create power suits that help paralyzed patients walk again. The exoskeleton braces the legs of the user with the spinal cord injury and the user, then takes their arms and pushes against their crutches while the suit manages their walking. However, further research and development in robotics are essential to lower the cost of producing an exoskeleton and make them more accessible to people with spine injuries.
The suit can also be used to train those without permanent injuries to walk again. The users can switch the function to ensure that the suit isn’t walking for them. The device, much like other robots, functions on intelligent design. It reads the intention of the user, which is essential in neural recovery. Exoskeletons can also help wheelchair users beat the loss of bone density and issues such as pressure sores caused by not using specific muscles and bones.
The development of prosthetics helps many patients resume the basic function of their limbs. However, if users could control the limbs with their brains, the feeling would be more natural. The BrainGate project attempts to deliver prosthetic limbs with brain control. The researchers are attempting to create non-invasive ways to read brain impulses and use them to restore function in stroke patients and also reroute impulses to prosthetics. The main problem with current systems is that the computer reading the impulses isn’t portable. Creating a more efficient wearable system can help patients regain motorized control of their limbs.
Continued research and development in smart technology can improve mobility assistance devices and help patients lead better lives.