Scientists have developed a pair of smart gloves that could re-learn how to play the piano for patients with weakness in their limbs.
Stroke patients often show reduced or complete inability to move the hand, fingers or wrist, making manual activities difficult.
Exoskeleton glove use artificial intelligence, Touch sensors and moving components called actuators help mimic natural hand movements so patients can relearn manual tasks.
The proof-of-concept glove “taught” the wearer to feel the difference between correct and incorrect movements, the researchers said.
When a person is wearing gloves to play the piano, it can detect where the wearer’s movements are going wrong, allowing them to “understand their playing and make improvements”.
“We found that the glove can learn to distinguish between correct and incorrect piano playing,” said Dr Eric Engelberg, a professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Marine and Mechanical Engineering.
“This means it could be an invaluable tool for individualized rehabilitation for people wishing to relearn to play music.”
Today, there are an estimated 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK.
Stroke is a leading cause of disability, and almost two-thirds of survivors are discharged with weakness, vision problems, and language and communication problems.
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As part of the experiment, Mitt was taught to play the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a piano using pre-programmed movements.
The researchers say further work is needed to improve the glove’s accuracy and make it more adaptable, but in the future they hope stroke patients and disabled people can use the gloves to restore arm function.
Commenting on the work, Stroke Association Chief Executive Juliet Bouverie said: “This is an exciting time for technology in stroke research.
“The economic burden of health and social care in this country requires innovative approaches to treatment and care that have the potential to reduce the devastating impact of stroke.”
Ms Bouverie added: “We hope that the findings of this study will help build on our current understanding and lead to effective treatments to help rebuild life after stroke.”