A child and an adult holding hands

Portable device might help stroke survivors hold hands with loved ones

Image credit: Foto 72000543 © Rangizzz | Dreamstime.com

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have created a touchpad device that could bring back a sense of touch to the limbs of someone who has suffered a stroke.

Stroke survivors who have lost their sense of touch may be able to feel the warmth of a loved one’s hand again thanks to a portable device being developed by UK researchers.

One of the most common side-effects of a stroke is the loss of sensation and muscle control in one arm and hand, which makes it difficult for survivors to dress and feed themselves, or even handle everyday objects such as a toothbrush or door handle.

In order to support them, a team of researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have created a touchpad device that delivers tiny vibrations to the fingertips, causing brain cells to fire and bring back a sense of touch to affected limbs.

The device could not only make survivors more independent but also help them reconnect with loved ones. 

“Improvement in touch sensation should lead to them being able to sense that they are holding hands," said the device's creator, Dr Amit Pujari. "That definitely should be possible.”

The researcher presented his device at the British Science Festival, where he explained how trial participants were asked to place their hands on the device and report whether or not they could feel different strengths of vibrations.

After 10 minutes of using the device, people reported a 20 per cent to 40 per cent improvement in their sense of touch, Pujari said. 

“They have been delivered touch sensation itself – vibration touch," Pujari said: “And what we see is that their ability to sense that vibration touch itself improves.”

There were 40 participants in the study, some of which had lost their sense of touch due to a stroke and others who had lost it to diabetic neuropathy. During the experiments, the researchers realised that improving the sense of touch did not only have an impact on the patients' mental wellbeing but also helped them improve their movements. 

“Basically, sensory and motor is connected, and because of that improvement in sensory, from my perspective, (it is) bound to have some improvements in movement,” Pujari said.

Nonetheless, the researchers are still analysing the effectiveness of the device in the long term, and the findings of the study have not yet been peer-reviewed. 

Currently, there are 1.3 million stroke survivors in the United Kingdom. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in adults in the country, and it accounts for 75 per cent of the deaths from cerebrovascular diseases. 

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles