Wearable electronics are any technology that can be worn on or implanted in the body, ranging from smartwatches and activity trackers (such as FitBit) to hearing aids. Scientists are turning their eye to creating wearable electronics that could aid in recovery after a stroke. One of these inventions is a throat sensor that could be a game-changer for treating aphasia.
John Rogers, a professor in Northwestern University’s engineering department, is working on an electronic device that adheres to the skin with a sticker. As the person moves through their day, it sends back important information. In this case, it’s tracking the patient’s ability to swallow and their speech patterns.
A Chicago news station reports that “the tools traditionally used by speech-language pathologists to monitor patients’ speech and swallowing, such as microphones, can’t distinguish between patients’ voices and ambient noise.”
Moreover, these sensors could give speech therapists accurate information, removing the need for patients to track their progress:
The throat sensors also allow clinicians to track how frequently patients with aphasia are talking and use that data to set goals. “Not only are we as therapists getting the feedback, but the patients can get feedback as well … and then they have goals to strive for,” said Cherney. “It can be very motivating for them.”
That feedback is more objective than subjective, giving patients concrete evidence of their progress and rate of recovery.
This invention is important because it takes patients out of the speech therapy world and into the every day world, which is where that progress counts the most. By wearing this trackable device, speech therapists can measure speech abilities when patients are relaxed, hanging out with friends or going about their lives at home. Information can be gained over a long period of time because it’s not reliant on office visits.
“Talking with friends and family at home is a completely different dimension from what we do in therapy,” said Cherney. “Having a detailed understanding of patients’ communication habits outside of the clinic helps us develop better strategies with our patients to improve their speaking skills and speed up their recovery process.”
Moreover, speech therapists can use the information to pinpoint the best times of day for therapy, or better understand how an individual uses language throughout the day.