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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Inventions to help stroke victims
By Jane Elliott
BBC News

There are a range of activities which are difficult with one hand
One device tears toilet paper
When Owain Morgan needed to come up with a design to help people who had suffered a stroke, he turned to his own family for inspiration.

His grandmother and uncle had both had strokes and talking to them he realised something as simple as a device to help them tear toilet and kitchen paper with one hand could make a big difference to their lives.

"It didn't really occur to me before talking to them that this might be a problem for people - that something so simple could help," said 18-year-old Owain, an apprentice from South Wales.

There are more than 450,000 people living in the UK who, as a result of a stroke, need to rely on others to help with simple everyday tasks like these.

Challenge

In a bid to raise awareness of the problem and do something to help those who have had a stroke, the UK defence and aerospace group, BAE Systems set their apprentices the challenge of designing devices to make lives easier.

Brain scan of someone who has had stroke
Strokes can leave people with disabilities

The teams had either to develop a mechanical aid to help people who had paralysis of a limb to do everyday activities, or design an electrical aid to help those with speech problems (dysphasia) communicate in everyday situations.

The entries were whittled down to a shortlist of four.

Project manager John Flemming said his group of apprentices had come up with a device to aid the rehabilitation of muscular movement.

They worked with physios at Bucknall Hospital, in Stoke-on-Trent, who are currently trialling the invention.

"The idea was to help rehabilitate both the arm and the shoulder by helping to reintroduce tension back through use.

"It will then help reduce muscle wastage as well as reducing the chances of the patient suffering from oedema."

All these devices have been devised with the view of enhancing the freedom of choice and independence of the person who has had the stroke
Professor Alan Wing

Lucy Thatcher, who co-ordinated her team's entry, said their device was designed to help patients to communicate more easily with their carers.

She said both carer and patient could be given an LED (Light Emitting Diode) box that would alert the carer when there was a problem.

Attaching four symbols, such as the picture of a cup or an emergency symbol to both devices, could allow the patient not only to say they needed help, but why.

"This could be particularly useful in the first stages when the patients' dysphasia can be the most severe.

"It allows the patient to buzz if there is an emergency and allows the carer to rush in if it is an emergency and to know, if not, what their needs are," said Lucy.

Kitchen aid

Another team, under project manager Carl Dodd, designed a board with a multitude of kitchen implements designed to make chopping, grating, mashing and paring possible with just one hand.

One of the competition entries
Chopping is difficult with only one hand

"We knew nothing about stroke when we started, but we did lots of research and now we know lots about it.

"We went out with questionnaires and asked people what would be useful for them.

"We designed the devices and when we had finished them we took them to one of the ladies who was helping us for her to trial them.

"She made her comments and then we changed them."

Professor Alan Wing, professor of human movement in the department of psychology, at the University of Birmingham, said many people were unaware of the long-term effects of stroke on the body and that these devices could help improve their quality of life.

"All these devices have been devised with the view of enhancing the freedom of choice and independence of the person who has had the stroke. This is very important.

"Hopefully, after the competition, some of these designs will then be developed and be available for use.

"There is one school of thought that says people who have had strokes should not be given devices like this too early on, but six months after a stroke the recovery is slowing down and these devices could be very helpful," he said.

Results

Alex South, volunteer co-ordinator at The Stroke Association, said it was delighted with the range of devices produced.

"Stroke is the leading cause of severe disability in the UK and each device would go some way in helping to improve the life of a stroke survivor.

"All of the teams involved have gained a lot from the challenge and have learnt more about what it is like to actually live with the effects of stroke."

The winning team will be announced on 29 September.

During the year BAE Systems also hopes to raise 850,000 for the Stroke Association.




SEE ALSO
Fruit and veg 'cut stroke risk'
27 Jan 06 |  Health

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