Tech offers home-based rehab

09/11/2017 - 14:15

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Technology that recently arrived in Perth from New Zealand could improve rehabilitation outcomes for multiple sclerosis and stroke patients, offering the potential to speed-up recovery while reducing the need to travel for treatment.

Tech offers home-based rehab
David Blacker (standing) says the ableX pilot program has showed promise. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Technology that recently arrived in Perth from New Zealand could improve rehabilitation outcomes for multiple sclerosis and stroke patients, offering the potential to speed-up recovery while reducing the need to travel for treatment.

Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science medical director and consultant neurologist, David Blacker, has secured the technology from New Zealand-based rehabilitation company ableX healthcare Limited.

The technology is a combination of therapy games and versatile handheld controllers for upper limb training.

As well as accelerating physical and cognitive rehabilitation after a stroke, ableX is designed to help people with other impairments caused by brain trauma, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or dementia.

Dr Blacker said Perron was engaging in an implementation program to trial the technology using 10 MS patients and 10 stroke patients.

“What I really like about this is it’s in the home, and the beauty of the program is it has the ability to link to really expert physiotherapists just by internet camera,” Dr Blacker told Business News.

“In the next few years there’ll be an explosion of electronic rehabilitation devices, but they’re not a replacement for good, really well-performed expert neuro-physio therapy.

“What we’re really trying to do with this program is to link one of the really very enthusiastic physios from the MS society (MSWA) into the program.”

Perron Institute business development manager Jim Murphy said the institute had a partnership with MSWA and the two organisations had lodged a joint application for a Lotterywest grant worth $92,000, which they received.

MSWA is supporting Perron’s pilot program for ableX with clinicians and MS patients.

Dr Blacker said ableX had also partnered with Perron and provided its technology at no cost because it was beneficial to have its product trialled by the institute.

“It’s advantageous for companies to look at us for the heart tick of approval in science,” he said.

“If researchers or industry have projects or research they want to do, we have the patients (to do it).”

The program was showing a lot of promise and was more engaging for patients than traditional rehabilitation methods, meaning patients were using it more frequently, Dr Blacker said.

“A component of rehabilitation is to have something that’s really interesting and engaging, compared to being in the gym and putting pegs into blocks in a wooden board, which used to be standard therapy,” he said.

Dr Blacker told Business News many of his stroke patients only needed to improve 5 to 10 per cent to be able to return the use of a paralysed hand to put their shirt on, so being able to engage in therapy more frequently was a great benefit.

A patient of Dr Blacker’s, Suzan Brown, said she was privileged to be a part of the program.

“We hope that the people who make the decisions about this can see the value in small things like being able to open a carton of milk and make toast in the middle of the night,” Mrs Brown said.

In addition to benefiting patients, Dr Blacker said ableX would streamline processes for Perron Institute and save resources.

“What we’re trying to do with this is have cloud-based reports on what they (the patients) are trying to do and what they’re doing with the games,” he said.

“We’re hoping eventually it just becomes a part of clinical assessment, so when they come and see me in the clinic every three or four months, I can say ‘oh, they’ve done 16 hours of hand rehabilitation from playing the game.

“It’s much more efficient.”

Dr Blacker said a report would be released in March 2018 detailing the results of the program and, if found to be beneficial, the next step would be to progress to larger clinical trials to test the technology in conjunction with medication.

“It’s interesting here that the combination of pharmaceutical agents plus device-based technologies might be the way to go,” he said.

“In the field of neuro-rehab often we’ll base the outcome on standardised scores.

“Imagine if you had a patient that started with the game and you’ve got this game score, you could have half the patients going on this medication, half the patients on a placebo and the change in the gaming score becomes the outcome measure of the trial.”

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