The gloves not only prevent tremors from happening but also improve motor control.
A tremor is an unintentional, uncontrollable, somewhat rhythmic, muscle contraction, which manifests as trembling of one or more body parts, most commonly the hands. It can happen when muscles are relaxed and still, called resting tremors, or during voluntary movements, called action tremors.
About 70 percent of Parkinson’s patients experience tremors in the early stages of the disease, and more than 25 percent have action tremors, most often in the hands, restricting them from performing everyday activities.
Previous studies by the Western research team showed that most tremor suppression devices targeting the wrists and elbows worsen tremors in the fingers, making things even harder for Parkinson’s patients. They also often end up suppressing all movements, even voluntary ones.
But the new gloves, using a series of motors and sensors, are actually able to track voluntary movements and distinguish them from involuntary ones. So if a person is trying to complete a specific task, the gloves will allow the movement while minimizing involuntary tremors.
Real data from participants with Parkinson’s was used to help develop the software that controls the glove.
To maximize the benefits of the new gloves, they can be custom-designed for each patient’s hand. The team’s prototype was designed specifically for the left hand of doctoral student Yue Zhou, who also 3-D printed the key components of the glove.
The team believes the new gloves will bring real change to the lives of Parkinson’s patients, allowing them to do more daily activities on their own and live more normal lives.
“By creating a glove that allows people to perform these actions while suppressing the tremors, I think they could go back to being much more independent in their own homes for a far longer period of time,” Ana Luisa Trejos, the lead investigator at the Wearable Biomechatronics Laboratory Group, said in a press release.
Researchers are now waiting on ethics approval to test the gloves on Parkinson’s patients.
Trejos and her team developed the project with the support of the Peter C. Maurice Fellowship in Biomedical Engineering.