Armin Curt, Balgrist University Hospitals Spinal Cord Injury Centre, Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich Move: Wireless sensor technology to enrich assessments and outcome measures for clinical trials

Funded in: 2016, 2017, 2018

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Problem: measure and evaluate impairments in the ability to move of spinal cord injured patients

Target: a method to continuously measure different activities of SCI patients

Goal: to get a complete picture about a patient’s mobility status for choosing the appropriate therapies

Depending on the location of the injury, spinal cord injury can result in complete or incomplete paralysis of the lower limbs (paraplegia) or the lower and upper limbs (tetraplegia) causing amongst other things a decreased ability to move (i.e. mobility). This can severely affect the independence of patients in their own life and whether they are able to participate in public life.

There exist a range of clinical test to evaluate mobility and independence in the acute rehabilitation setting. However, they only take snapshots of the patient’s status on specific time points. In order to get a complete picture about a patient’s mobility and independence, an additional tool is needed to continuously measure patients during their whole day, especially outside therapist-supervised sessions and outside the clinic setting during their everyday life.

Wearable sensors are currently on the rise. There are used not only to measure physical activity in the general public, but also find applications in health-related areas, e.g. to predict the risk of falling in elderly or monitor the non-usage of one hand/arm after a stroke. Due to their small size, wearable sensors are capable of measuring physical activity objectively over a long period, days or even weeks, without disturbing the users.

We are using wearable sensors to continuously measure in what way and how much spinal cord injured patients move during their rehabilitation inside the clinic, but also afterwards in their home environment.

Due to the fact, that some patients are able to walk whereas others depend on a wheelchair, we are working on developing novel methods to capture this different kinds of movements. For example we developed a method to measure how far patients travel in a wheelchair and how much they are being pushed in contrast to moving independently on their own. We are furthermore collecting a large amount of data about mobility in spinal cord injured patients to be able to compare newly injured patients to norm values and set individual goals for each patient.   

These tools will help us on the one hand to measure and evaluate impairments in the ability to move of spinal cord injured patients throughout the whole rehabilitation to help doctors and therapists in choosing the appropriate therapies. On the other hand, we want to engage spinal cord injured people who are out of the clinic and go on with their normal daily routines to pursue an active lifestyle.