Stretchable Sensors Help Track Recovery In Stroke Patients
New wearable sensors measure a patient's ability to swallow and speak while also enabling at-home monitoring
Recovering after a stroke is a grueling process not only because of how physically challenging it is, but also because it can be difficult for doctors and patients to measure and track recovery progress. To help patients regain their ability to speak after a stroke, scientists at Northwestern University have developed what they are calling a breakthrough in medical technology, using stretchable sensors to measure patients’ speech patterns and ability to swallow.
Developed in the lab of Northwestern University engineering professor John A. Rogers in partnership with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the sensors aid in the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia, a communication disorder associated with stroke. The sensors stick directly to the skin, moving with the body and providing detailed health metrics including heart function, muscle activity and quality of sleep. This represents a major jump forward in the tools that speech-language pathologists have traditionally used to monitor patients’ speech function, such as microphones, which cannot distinguish between a patients’ voice and ambient noise, making it more difficult to measure a patient’s speech abilities.
“Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients’ bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve. Our sensors solve that problem by measuring vibrations of the vocal cords,” said Professor Rogers. “But they only work when worn directly on the throat, which is a very sensitive area of the skin. We developed novel materials for this sensor that bend and stretch with the body, minimizing discomfort to patients.”
Because the sensors are also wireless, they eliminate barriers posed by traditional health monitoring devices in clinical settings. Patients can wear them even after they leave the hospital, so doctors are able to better understand how they are progressing at home. Data from the sensors is also available to both patients and clinicians via a dashboard, visualizing recovery progress and even sending alerts when a patient is underperforming in a certain metric.
With the sensors already testing well with recovering stroke patients, Rogers said he is also collaborating with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to test the sensors on patients with other conditions, such as Parkinson’s.