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Wearables, Robotics and Haptics to Transform Physical Rehab and Patients' Lives

September 17, 2015

Patients with physical impairments due to age or a stroke can often lean on technology to help them lead a quality life, by recovering lost sensory functions and carrying out day-to-day activities more freely. A new generation of wearables now has the potential to rapidly advance the options for the disabled and the elderly.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan has found that innovation in robotics, virtual reality, wearables, sensors and wireless technologies is revamping the rehabilitation device sector.

Physical rehabilitation devices dominate market share for now, with the focus shifting from crutches and mobility aids to specific motor function devices, such as hand or arm rehabilitation devices. Robotics, virtual simulation and wearables have been incorporated into these rehabilitation devices with the aim of developing better devices for improved efficacy, safety and patient adherence, and subsequently, better quality of life.

Advanced technologies, such as augmentative communication in hearing devices or telescope technology in vision rehabilitation have already started to drastically improve patients’ quality of life. These technological leaps have especially improved patient motivation and compliance, as well as data collection and progress monitoring, the firm said. Virtual rehabilitation is also being implemented widely.


Down the road, Frost expects devices to incorporate bionics or haptics with robotics or virtual simulation. And, as a result, the firm expects there to be a convergence of different application areas for stroke or paralytic patients, who have more than one impairment.

For instance, one device may include physical and cognitive aspects for the training and recovery of neuro-motor functions. In a similar vein, customization or personalization of the devices for each individual according to their level of requirement is also slowly catching up in the industry.

"Currently rehabilitation devices are designed to overcome an individual's specific disability, while the trend is moving towards multi-functional devices and potentially customized designs," said Frost’s technical insights research analyst Debarati Sengupta. "For instance, in the case of stroke patients with both cognitive and speech impairment, a single device to rehabilitate both functions simultaneously will be beneficial."

There are some caveats. Penetration and adoption of technologies in emerging economies are challenged by factors like slow regulatory approval, high cost of next-generation devices and reimbursement hassles.

"Robust clinical evidence from developers and reimbursement coverage for patients will enable advanced rehabilitation devices to increase the adoption by the physician and patient community, spurring growth in these markets," noted Sengupta.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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