By: Paisley Hansen, writer at the Mobility Resource
Paralysis is a problem that affects such a high number of people that it's nearly impossible to estimate how widespread it is. The many different forms of paralysis that exist make an already difficult problem harder to create solutions that can adequately help individuals afflicted with this condition to maintain more normal lives.
Through rapid development of technology and research into mechanisms that cause paralysis to be a permanent condition, doctors have worked side by side with engineers to develop new and interesting ways to help paralyzed individuals regain their mobility, and to make their lives more normal.Some promising new technologies even hope to solve the problem of paralysis and allow patients to use the use of their legs and arms again. These inventions are helping people get around more easily and be more independent like these cars.
Let's explore these technologies in depth to understand how they're helping people stricken by paralysis to stay mobile.
1. TouchScreen Computers and Tablets
One of the most difficult challenges for those suffering from paralysis that affects the upper extremities is the inability to write, draw or do many artistic activities. This leaves it nearly impossible to perform activities that would bring enjoyment and help the patient to cope with the social effects of paralysis.Tablets and other touch screen-abled devices are being given to patients whom suffer from paralysis but still have a limited amount of control to their hands or their mouth. By using a pointer, this enables them to take part in activities like digital painting, sketching, games and other activities that would otherwise be impossible to participate in.
2. Mobility Assisting Technology
For patients whom have been told that they will never walk again using their own legs, technology may allow them to walk with the aid of a mechanical exoskeleton like device that can be worn on their legs. The Ekso from Ekso Bionics is one such device provided as a mobility resource. Complex computers with movement algorithms designed to mimic the natural way that people walk work to make this technology move the patient's legs for them in tandem with the use of crutchlike support devices.The downside is that this technology is still in developmental stages and shares many of the same pitfalls that even militarygrade exoskeletons share. In other words, they're heavy and require the user to carry a heavy battery backpack.
3. Spinal Implants
While no cure for paralysis currently exists, doctors and scientists are hard at work in trying to increase their understanding of what causes the varying degrees of paralysis in the body. Their research has come far enough to create an implant that can help stimulate signal carrying along the spinal cord.The stimulator implant was first published in Brain research journal and active trials of the technology have been performed since April, 2014.While the implant helped 4 patients regain both feeling and voluntary movement in their lower extremities, the amount of strength that the patients have been able to recover has varied greatly. Not all can walk, and the reasons behind these varying degrees of success is what researchers plan to study next.That means until the exact cause and best method of treatment can be crafted, suffers of paralysis will need to make due with mobility technology that helps them to move rather than cures their condition.
Eyetracking devices have been used in patients whom have paralysis that prevents all but movement in the eyes to occur. This allows patients to communicate by the simple movement of their eyes.Eyetracking systems allow patients whom would normally be confined to their bodies to have some degree of influence over their surroundings.The drawback of this technology is that it tends to be more costly, which means that it's only implemented in situations where other solutions won't work for the paralyzed individual.
5. Sip and Puff Switches
While nowhere near as astounding as the other technologies listed here, the sip and puff switch allows for paralyzed individuals to use their breath to control devices. These directions can be interpreted in ways that allow everything from the navigation of a computer to the movement of a motorized wheelchair.
Follow Paisley on twitter @PaisleyHansen
Read more at Sporkability.org