In arm’s reach

We have come a long way in 20+ yrs let alone 150+ yrs. I was browsing one of my technology sites I visit when I came upon this “advanced” arm prosthesis from the 1850’s.

An 1850's Arm Prosthesis

Edward Scissorhands before the scissors?

It was deemed advanced because it could be adjusted and customized. 150 years ago it was the pinnacle of engineering for amputees, now it looks like a medieval torture device from the past!

Not long ago I made a similar post but never before have I seen both ends of the spectrum so clearly. Compare the Victorian era mechanical arm from what I just showed you to that of Dean Kamen’s (inventor of the Segway) Luke Arm or Touch Bionics’ i-limb. The way the i-limb integrates with your body is pretty amazing and requires its fair share of neuroplasticity. Short of visiting their office in Scotland and watching first hand, this video  from (DARPA/) actually shows how the patients’ nerves are brought to just below the surface of the skin and interact with the arm.

i-Limb Hand

With just a pinch of a nerve

The neuroplasticity required to operate the arm is constantly evolving as Engineers, scientists and Doctors try to optimize the nerve connections to the arm. The users that currently have the arm or hand unit are essentially beta testers. Every two months or so Touch Bionics invites users back to test new connections from the surface of the skin to the arm. All of this requires the users to retrain their brain and neural pathways to better connect with their prosthesis. In many ways it’s akin to bringing your car in for service or updating your phone to the latest operating system.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately depending on your viewpoint I have been fortunate enough to know exactly what this feels like (the neuroplasticity and retraining of the brain that is!) I have been using Aim2Walk’s Lokomat and their Armeo to try to send as much information back through my nervous system in hopes of “waking up” new pathways and regaining some function. Much like the users of the i-limb have to work at optimizing their new prosthesis.

It will be interesting to see what advancements take place in the next few years as battery technology and processing power increase. So while we look into the future for the be all and end all of cures or solutions we have to remember that no matter who you are be it a scientist or patient, hard work will be required!

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