Georgia Tech researchers have created a wireless, musical glove that may improve sensation and motor skills for people with paralyzing spinal cord injury (SCI).The gadget was successfully used by individuals with limited feeling or movement in their hands due to tetraplegia. These individuals had sustained their injury more than a year before the study, a time frame when most rehab patients see very little improvement for the remainder of their lives. Remarkably, the device was primarily used while the participants were going about their daily routines.
The device is called Mobile Music Touch (MMT). The glove, which looks like a workout glove with a small box on the back, is used with a piano keyboard and vibrates a person’s fingers to indicate which keys to play. While learning to play the instrument, several people with SCI experienced improved sensation in their fingers.
The MMT system works with a computer, MP3 player or smart phone. A song, such as Ode to Joy, is programmed into a device, which is wirelessly linked to the glove. As the musical notes are illuminated on the correct keys on the piano keyboard, the gadget sends vibrations to “tap” the corresponding fingers. The participants play along, gradually memorizing the keys and learning additional songs.
However, these active learning sessions with MMT were not the primary focus of the study. The participants also wore the glove at home for two hours a day, five days a week, feeling only the vibration (and not playing the piano). Previous studies showed that wearing the MMT system passively in this manner helped participants learn songs faster and retain them better. The researchers hoped that the passive wearing of the device would also have rehabilitative effects.Markow believes the increased motor abilities could be caused by renewed brain activity that sometimes becomes dormant in persons with SCI. The vibration might be triggering activity in the hand’s sensory cortex, which leads to firing in the brain’s motor cortex. Markow would like to expand the study to include functional MRI results.