Wireless sleeves and smart socks: how wearable tech will improve healthcare

New technologies being developed in the UK and Israel offer a glimpse of a future in which wearable technology helps deliver improved healthcare at lower cost.

Scientists at the University of Southampton are working on a new wireless sleeve to help people who have had a stroke recover use of their arm and hand. The wearable device will provide automatic, intelligent information about muscle movement and strength while patients exercise and go about their everyday tasks at home. According to the university, the data will be available via tablet computer to enable patients to review their progress and to allow therapists to tailor their rehabilitation programme.

As well as helping stroke patients regain the use of their arm and hand, the wireless sleeve will reduce time spent with therapists. The technology will also be used to assess patients’ problems accurately and more cheaply and practically than using laboratory-based technologies, said Jane Burridge, Professor of Restorative Neuroscience at Southampton.

Burridge explained: “About 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year and, despite improvements in acute care that results in better survival rates, about 60% of people with moderate to severe strokes fail to recover useful function of their arm and hand.

“Stroke rehabilitation is increasingly home-based, as patients are often discharged from hospital after only a few days. This policy encourages independence and avoids problems associated with prolonged hospital stays. However, some patients struggle to carry out the exercises and they may question whether what they are doing is correct. Similarly therapists don’t have objective measurements about their patients’ muscle activity or ability to move. Rehabilitation technologies like our sleeve will address problems faced by both patients and therapists.”

Meanwhile, researchers in Israel are working on a wearable device that could help diabetes patients avoid foot amputation. The smartphone-connected washable smart sock, which contains dozens of micro-fabricated pressure sensors, warns patients of developing foot ulcers associated with diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage.

Changes in pressure due to incorrect posture, anatomical deformation or ill-fitting shoes are registered as electrical signals that are relayed to a smartphone app, which in turn informs the patient of developing risk, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported.

Professor Yaakov Nahmias, director of the BioDesign: Medical Innovation programme, said: “This is a classic mobile health approach. By giving patients and their families the tools they need to prevent the development of ulcers, we can dramatically reduce healthcare costs related to diabetes.”

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