“This hand uses an EKG (electrocardiograph) signal to sense muscle function,” said Jamey Waltermyer of Animated Prosthetics, Inc.
Waltermyer went on to explain that the hand's movement was stimulated by signals from a nearby personal digital assistant (PDA). He was one of the vendors who demonstrated the latest in prosthetic and orthotic technology Thursday at the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics education fair.
Pointing to his forearm, Waltremyer flexed his muscle.
“The flexing forearm sends a signal to the small microprocessor in the mechanical hand, telling it what to do,” he said.
The sea of tables in the Rose Ballroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget displayed an array of technology and tools available for those who have lost all or part of a limb.
“You really don’t keep up with the industry if you don’t have a friend or family member affected by it,” Waltermyer said as he surveyed the room. “There is a lot here.”
The annual event draws more than 300 vendors from across the nation. The displays are part of a week-long education fair where Hanger employees learn about the latest in their field.
“In the past 20 years the technology has really taken off,” Steve Sherman of Agility Products said. “It used to be mostly wood (limbs). Now computers are really playing a bigger role.”
Sherman was displaying a microprocessor-powered knee that could bend and extend with the help of a hydraulic cylinder.
Much like the microprocessor in the lone hand, the Agility MPC Knee senses muscle contractions in the living limb and translates those signals into knee movement, Sherman said.
Agility Products claims that the microprocessor in the artificial knee senses and reacts to the wearer’s gait faster than the blink of an eye, measuring sensory inputs 1,000 times per second and reacting within 10 milliseconds.
“We are seeing microprocessor technology go into all types of prosthetic products,” Sherman said.
One of the event’s highlights sat on a table in the corner of the room, wrapped around a mannequin’s calf.
The WalkAide, a device that was featured Tuesday on Good Morning America, may restore partial nerve function to patients who have multiple sclerosis or have suffered a stroke or traumatic head injury.
The device, which resembles a small iPod attached to a leg band, stimulates nerve function through the outside of the calf, helping patients with nervous system damage to walk normally.
After the brain has been damaged, the nervous system loop from brain to muscle and back again starts to short circuit, according to Jodi Freed, a national clinical program specialist for Innovative Neurotronics. As a result, the muscle that lifts the ankle while walking no longer receives stimulation and locks up.
“There is really no communication from the brain to the leg,” Freed said.
The WalkAide senses when the wearer lifts their foot and sends an electrical signal to the muscle, simulating the signal the ankle would normally get from the nervous system.
Freed said that the device itself was not as revolutionary as the lasting affects it seemed to produce on the wearer.
“Research is showing that, over time, new pathways can be built in the brain,” Freed said.
The company is conducting a study of patients after many claimed that they were able to lift their ankles long after they had removed the device.
“Some affects last for days and others only last hours,” Freed said. “It depends on the patient.”