Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have developed a system to track hand use in people with a hand prosthesis or patients who have undergone a hand transplant. The technology tracks movement in the hands and arms, and helps to monitor how people use their hands in everyday life. Such data could help to guide personalized treatment for patients, while also enabling clinicians to track recovery and mobility in numerous conditions that can affect hand use, such as multiple sclerosis and stroke.
Losing a hand can make everyday tasks difficult, although researchers have developed an array of technologies and methods to assist amputees, from robotic prostheses to hand transplants. However, measuring how well a given approach is actually working for patients during their daily lives is important in refining and personalizing such treatments for maximum effect.
One key parameter involves measuring how much someone uses their prosthesis or transplanted hand compared with their other hand. To make this easier, these researchers have developed a system of movement sensors that affix to someone’s hands and upper arms. The sensors can then track hand and arm use over several days, providing data that would otherwise be difficult to capture accurately.
“We can bring people into a clinic or laboratory setting, and measure how they are doing with a prosthetic or hand transplant, but these observations are typically made under optimal and artificial conditions, and therefore might not accurately show us how people are truly functioning during their everyday lives,” said Scott Frey, a researcher involved in the study. “These sensors, which continuously record movements over multiple days while people go about their lives, have the ability to revolutionize treatments by providing real world data that will help us develop personalized approaches to treat traumatic hand loss.”
So far, the researchers have tested the devices in volunteers with prostheses or hand transplants, and tracked their movement for three days. “Most activities performed by a typical adult involve a fairly evenly balanced reliance on both hands,” said Frey. “Over the course of a normal day, roughly 55% of people’s activities involve the dominant hand and 45% involve the non-dominant hand. Now we have evidence that shows experienced prosthesis users rely on their prosthetic hand during about 20% of daily activities and use their uninjured limb for the remaining 80%. Hand transplant recipients exhibit a more balanced pattern of limb use that is closer to what we see in healthy adults, although not quite at the 55%/45% split.”
While these data appear to skew towards the benefits of a hand transplant, the researchers point out that the technique is not for everyone, with infection risks, a shortage of donors, and the side-effects of long-term immunosuppressant use all being things to consider.
Study in journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair: Greater and More Natural Use of the Upper Limbs During Everyday Life by Former Amputees Versus Prosthesis Users