Aging global population creates a significant pressure on our society. The healthcare costs are growing annually, making quality service beyond the reach of the people who need it the most. Telehealth, virtual reality and other technological innovations can help cut the costs and free up physicians to focus on complicated issues while offering an affordable alternative to those in need of routine health monitoring. They also allow more customized approach and faster recovery process for people who hadn’t had an access to quality medicine before.
Smart Technology For Stroke Victims
According to the World Heart Federation, 15 million people per year suffer a stroke. In the U.S., every 40 seconds someone is having a stroke. It is the leading cause of disability, costing the national economy $34 billion and a victim’s family – an average $17,081 annually.
Two of the founders of Neofect, a technology startup with offices in South Korea, the United States and Poland, had experienced the hardship of caring for stroke patients in their families. They decided to use their engineering and business expertise to create a more efficient system to help stroke patients regain their mobility.
After several years of prototyping, testing and intensive consulting with the leading physicians, Rapael Smart Glove was born.
Stroke patients often experience long term disability which is more due to neuro damage than to muscle weakness. By training undamaged cells, they can enhance the brain plasticity. So, the combination of hardware to aid the movements of the disabled body parts and software to analyze and design appropriate therapy program greatly improve the rehab process.
RAPAEL Smart Glove™ is a biofeedback system which includes a glove-shaped sensor device and a software designed specifically to help patients with central nervous system disorders. The solution provides game contents designed by physicians and medical experts to cause brain plasticity and muscle retention for stroke victims.
The Smart Glove has built-in IMU sensors to capture the hand and wrist movements, and bending sensors to measure the motion of individual fingers. The sensor data is transmitted via Bluetooth from the patient’s hand, and the software creates training augmented reality games.
The glove can be calibrated to set a custom sensitivity, game time, difficulty levels, hold times for certain motions, and frequency of movements. This allows every patient to play the games based on their own ability and goals.
The games are designed to stimulate finger, hand, and forearm movements and offer three levels of difficulty. Beginner games focus on repetitive motion, such as flexion/extension, pronation/supination, and radial/ulnar deviation to improve muscle memory. Functional games require more controlled fine movements to improve coordination. Cognitive games incorporate strategy, recognition, and computational activities. Each game also stimulates visual and auditory senses, reinforcing cognitive functions and accelerating neuroplasticity.
The software has a built in Adaptive Level Control, which is an artificial intelligence component that learns the patient’s strengths and weaknesses and adjusts the range of motion threshold automatically. This ensures the patient continues to stay challenged during the game, at the same time, creating a positive, encouraging environment. The system monitors the performance data over time and generates progress reports. Therapists can design specific rehabilitation schedules by combining the games.
New Study of Virtual Reality Affects on Post-Stroke Therapy
This year, the effectiveness of virtual reality based exercises for the health-related quality of life for stroke survivors has been proven during the study conducted by The National Rehabilitation Center in Korea.
The trial included 46 stroke survivors who were divided into experimental and control groups. All participants received a 4-week individual intervention program, as well as daily standard occupational therapy sessions administered by healthcare professionals who were not involved in the experiment. In addition, the patients in the experimental group played the games generated by the Rapael system.
All factors (except the use of the Smart Glove) were consistent for both groups. Researchers used several standard tests to evaluate the outcomes. Scores were measured before the program began, in the middle of the intervention, immediately after the end of the treatment period, and 1 month after the intervention.
There were no differences in scores between the two groups as the study began. At the end of the 4-week period, however, the participants who combined traditional physical therapy with daily games experienced noticeable improvements in their mobility level, and the impact was maintained for a significant amount of time after the rehabilitation program was completed.
Based on the findings, the researchers have come to the conclusion that virtual reality-based exercises combined with standard occupational therapy may be more effective than amount-matched conventional rehabilitation for improving distal upper extremity function and health-related quality of life.
Hoyoung Ban, a founder of NEOFECT, lost his father to a stoke and experienced first-hand the obstacles both patients and families face during the rehabilitation process while supporting his uncles. He noticed that many patients discontinued the program for three main reasons: difficulty to visit the doctor’s office on a regular basis, the lack of noticeable improvement, and the costs involved, which made it beyond the budget for most families.
The Rapael system brings gamification into rehab exercise, helping motivate patients while the software improves effectiveness of the program by providing valuable real time information to caregivers. The device has been successfully employed by a number of hospitals in South Korea since December of 2014, and in the US and Europe since the end of 2015.
Currently, the Rapael system is available for use by professionals only and costs approximately $10,000. Later this year, NEOFECT is introducing a consumer version of the Smart Glove system so the stroke victims will be able to work on regaining their hand mobility at their own pace in a comfort of their homes and most importantly, at a cost that they can afford. It will be available soon in the retail and rental market.
The Smart Glove is durable, lightweight (132 g), and fits various hand sizes. A patient can take it with them to practice the games anywhere they travel. There are currently 40 games available, and the number is constantly growing.
The system will be especially beneficial when combined with telehealth because a doctor will be able to monitor the results on their computer, and a stroke survivor will not have to spend time and money on routine office visits. The monthly rental is expected to be $99.