Archives for category: gerontology

For those with diminished strength or function of the hand, daily tasks that we often take for granted may become difficult, essentially disabling someone in their daily life. To address this and increase efficiency of the performance of the hand, researchers at MIT have developed “Supernumerary Robotic Fingers,” a type of wearable robotic device with two extra fingers to complement the grasping function of a regular hand.

In normal human movements we have muscles that work synergistically, meaning that there is a central signal from the brain that allows them to contract together to create a certain movement. For example, when the biceps contracts to bend the elbow, the muscle brachialis contracts as well to help facilitate this movement. This allows for efficiency of tasks in our body.

An article titled Bio-Artificial Synergies for Grasp Postural Control of Supernumerary Robotic Fingers explains how the researchers have developed an algorithm to allow the robotic fingers to work synergistically with human hands. That is, the extra fingers are designed to correlate with the human movements to work as an extension of the human hand and enhance activity to form essentially a seven-fingered hand. The researchers use the concept of “Bio-Artificial Synergy.” Thus, the researchers have essentially developed extra fingers that replicate the movements of muscles in the human hand.

The device is mounted on the wrist, and through a sensor glove receives a signal from the hand and works alongside the five fingers to assist with grasping objects. The robotic fingers are longer than human digits, making it easier to grasp larger objects. Each robotic finger can move in 3 different directions. For those that have difficulty holding onto objects or performing coordinated movements, this can be an invaluable tool to perform tasks independently.

Because of these extra fingers, the user is able to perform tasks that are normally difficult to perform single-handedly, such as twisting open a bottle cap, holding a tablet and typing, This product is still in the development phase, and though researchers have amazingly been able to correlate the robotic hand angles with human hand angles for grasp, they have not yet completed algorithms for fingertip forces.

The article mentions that this devices has implications not only for elder care, but for construction and manufacturing.

See the video below for more description of this amazing device:

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Paro Robot Seal Healing Pet

The benefits of having a pet are well known, and animal-assisted therapy is widely used in hospitals and rehabilitation centers to comfort and engage patients. Of course, you don’t have to have a medical condition to benefit from animal companionship. I remember witnessing two black labs tear through a spinal cord rehabilitation unit, they ran all over all the mats, jumped on everything, and in a controlled medical environment it was refreshing and put a smile on everyone’s face.

For those with dementia, or alzheimer’s, taking care of a pet is normally not an option. Elderly people with altered mental states can be forgetful, neglectful, and are unable to safely and consistently care for other living beings. Developed about 10 years ago, the Paro Robot is a brilliant product, it is a robot harp seal with the characteristics of a pet such as sound and name recognition, tactile sensors, and emotional displays. It has hypoallergenic “fur, ” encourages communication and relaxation. More information is available on the website, but use of the Paro is backed by patient questionnaires indicating a decrease in depression and improvement in mood with use of Paro. While “robot therapy” may seem like an oxymoron term, a product such as this that may improve the quality of life of those with dementia and alzheimer’s whose days may otherwise be filled with fear, confusion and loneliness. In less extreme cases, they can do what any pet will do; make your day just a little better.

Additionally, this is a study published in 2011 in Gerontology examining the benefits of robot therapy (including the paro robot):It goes into detail into the function and use of the Paro, which is pretty amazing.