Page last updated at 23:18 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 00:18 UK

Stroke patients to test sensors

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Inside Oxford's gait lab

Motion sensors similar to those developed for video games like Nintendo Wii may help stroke patients relearn simple tasks, researchers say.

A UK team is assessing such technology to see if it can be used to monitor improvements in upper body movements in patients undergoing physiotherapy.

The Oxford University team hope it will allow patients to see their progress and motivate them to keep exercising.

Clinical trials of the equipment are being planned.

It is hoped the motion sensors will also help physiotherapists assess the range of movement a patient has and help them tailor exercises accordingly.

People do have problems with motivation to continue with their exercises, so this is exciting stuff and worth exploring
Professor Marion Walker

The technology builds on previous work analysing the walking pattern in children affected with cerebral palsy.

It uses the same motion-sensing technology that records the movements of actors for computer-generated films such as Beowulf.

A total of 12 infrared cameras work together to track the movement of reflective markers stuck to a person's wrist, arm and torso in real time.

Research leader Dr Penny Probert Smith said it can be hard to motivate patients who have had a stroke but the early days were vital.

"At first we're using a multi-camera system in the lab which will help us look at before and after the exercises and how much they use particular joints.

"We hope to break down useful movements - anything from handling money to tying shoelaces - into different elements that can be quantified and then assessed against standardised measures based on current clinical tests."

Telemonitoring

Eventually the researchers want to develop a version of the technology allowing the stroke patient to use it at home and be monitored by the therapist or GP remotely and get feedback on how they are doing.

In theory, immediately after a stroke a patient would be assessed in the laboratory, but then move to using the home-based system, which they hope to test within a year.

This is made possible, in part, by the boom in cheap motion-sensing technology for video game consoles such as Nintendo's Wii.

Patients commonly get "physio fatigue" and stop doing their daily exercises because they cannot see the small improvements they are making.

Professor Marion Walker, an expert in stroke rehabilitation at the University of Nottingham, agreed it was a "crucial problem".

"People do have problems with motivation to continue with their exercises so this is exciting stuff and worth exploring.

"Patients respond well to technology but the equipment needs to be low cost and easy to use so it's not just a gimmick."




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