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These Wearable Throat Sensors That Stick On Like Band-Aids Help Stroke Patients Recover

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Scientists from the Northwestern University have produced Band-Aid-like throat patches that monitor and track the long-term recovery of stroke survivors. They include motion sensors that detect muscle movement and vocal cord vibrations to determine how well a person is coping after suffering from a stroke.

Data picked up by these sensors could help doctors in diagnosing and monitoring the effectiveness of certain treatments for conditions such as the ability to speak or swallow, which are frequent signs of a person's post-stroke state.

Throat Sensors For Stroke Patients

Researchers made the groundbreaking news on Feb. 17 during a news conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The throat sensors were developed in the lab of Northwestern University professor John A. Rogers in collaboration with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab — a "translational" research hospital based in Chicago.

The throat sensors stick directly to the skin and it moves as the body moves, gathering crucial data and health metrics such as muscle activity, heart function, and the quality of an individual's sleep.

"Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients' bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve," said Rogers. "The key is to make them as integrated as possible with the human body."

More Effective Than Microphones

Typically, speech/language pathologists use microphones to record sound, but the patches are a significant step up because instead of recording sounds, they sense tissue movement, which delivers more accurate data, as microphones frequently can't distinguish between the patient and ambient noise. The patches won't have this problem, Rogers assured.

"You can be next to an airplane jet engine. You're not going to see that in the signal."

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Now, the researchers are trying to make the sensors less unseemly, as stroke patients would probably be apprehensive of wearing something that sticks out too much. For instance, they could make the patches more motion-sensitive to a point where they can be applied on a lower region of the neck — so it could easily be covered up by certain clothes — and still be able to pick up motion.

Arun Jayaraman, a Shirley Ryan AbilityLab scientist, said one of the most significant problems with stroke survivors is their gains tending to diminish upon leaving the hospital. The throat sensors could turn that around entirely.

"With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients," said Jayaraman.

According to Rogers, the sensors could enter mainstream use within the next year or two.

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