In recent years, there have been several significant breakthroughs in the treatment of spinal cord injuries (SCI). Whist there is still no single treatment that has been able to fully repair damage to the spine, every step forward paves the way for further understanding the complexities of this type of injury.
Technology is undoubtedly the driving force behind improvements in many areas of the medical sector and advancements have led to significant progress being made when it comes to treating and caring for patients with a broad range of conditions and injuries. Advances in technology also make for more accessible healthcare on a broader scale. This is particularly true when it comes to improving the long-term prognosis for individuals who have sustained severe spinal cord injuries.
From seemingly more minor developments such as the introduction of medical specific smart phone applications through to major advancements in the diagnosis and treatments of long-term disorders, technology is changing the way we are able to treat and care for patients.
In terms of spinal cord injuries, some significant technological advancements in recent years, include:
1. Mobile Applications For Caregivers and Patients
Caregivers are vital for the ongoing treatment of patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. Every caregiver, professional or otherwise, needs to be able to offer a high level of support to patients, as well as being able to take care of themselves to avoid burnout. Mobile Apps can help to offer a more holistic approach to self-care, and there are even some that offer advice and support to SCI caregivers specifically. CareZone for example, enables users to log medications, set reminders and even share task lists and updates with dozens of users at once, as well as offering direct information to family members.
CaringBridge is another great app that enables the user to build a patient specific site that can become a valuable communication tool as well as a shareable journal, a reminder system and an interactive digital diary.
For the overall well being of SCI careers, apps like iRelax are designed to help users wind down and find their own breathing space. Using continuous soundscapes without melody or lyrics, the app promotes a feeling of relaxation to aid sleep and to help ease the stress of being a full time caregiver.
For the patients themselves, the ability to regain their own independence is key to their recovery. Thanks to a selection of interactive mobile apps, patients can start to take back some control over certain aspects of their own life. WheelMate, for example, increases mobility and independence by providing details of wheelchair accessible restrooms and parking spaces in more the 45 countries worldwide.
Another concern for those suffering from long-term physical injuries, spinal or otherwise, is a lack of control over their own financial matters. Apps like Mint,are proving to be a useful tool for monitoring the ongoing financial circumstances of the patient at any time. With a user-friendly single access system, carers can quickly and easily keep track of the financial status of the person they are caring for, without running the risk of undertaking any fraudulent personal banking activity. This, in turn, helps the patient to retain a sense of financial independence throughout the rehabilitation process
2. Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Breakthrough
A groundbreaking treatment known as Epidural Stimulation has been developed to allow paralysed individuals to voluntarily move their limbs once again. What was once considered an impossibility, has become a reality thanks to the application of technology in this very specific area of medical science.
Using a small device implanted over the protective coating of the spinal cord, epidural stimulation involves the application of a continuous electrical current to the lower part of the spinal cord. The overall procedure, which includes specialist extensive rehabilitation, has resulted in patients being able to make significant progress in their recovery, such as regaining limb movements for the first time since their injury.
A true innovation in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, this revolutionary procedure has been made possible following extensive research paired with the application of high-end technology. The ability to mimic the brains own impulses using electronic pulses that bypass the normal course of circuitry is arguably one of the most impressive developments ever seen in the field of spinal cord injury treatment research.
3. Mobility Enhancing Technology
In recent years, advances in technology have meant that wearable machines that assist with the mobility of paralysed patients have become a more realistic and affordable proposition. Exoskeletons that are powered by a system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers and hydraulics have become more lightweight, more agile and infinitely more usable thanks to the continuous development of technology.
So life changing are these advances in medical technology, it is no longer outside of the realms of possibility to expect to see small wearable machines that can help to retrain the brain to coordinate movement on sufferers of spinal cord injuries in the near future.
Vastly more affordable that the bulky, body-enveloping suits of yesteryear, exoskeletal devices could soon be an integral part of patient rehabilitation and vital piece of equipment for ongoing home care, with a view to increased mobility and independence. From the initial computer aided design through to the materials used in the manufacturing process, without advances in recent technology, devices like this would remain completely inaccessible, instead of a very real treatment option for sufferers of spinal cord injuries.
Helping to Overcome Life Changing Challenges
While spinal cord injuries will no doubt continue to present life changing challenges to those who sustain them, advancements in technology across this field are changing the way we care for sufferers, as well as how they are able to navigate their own unique rehabilitation journey.
From small scale mobile applications to assist carers, software designed for the use of patients right through to through to motion-based treatments to enhance the mobility of those left paralysed as a result of their injury, the last decade has seen monumental changes in the way technology is being used in this area of medicine.