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03-10-2011 | Physical rehabilitation | Article

Collision-avoidance system helps more patients to use power wheelchair


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MedWire News: Study results suggest that a specially designed collision avoidance system may allow long-term care home residents with cognitive impairment to use power wheelchairs.

Rosalie Wang (University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and co-workers explain that development of such a system may help improve independent mobility in these patients, who are not currently allowed to use power wheelchairs due to safety concerns and who are generally not strong enough to use manual wheelchairs.

The researchers explain that power wheelchairs with inbuilt collision avoidance features are currently being developed, but add that limited information exists regarding the best and most user-friendly ways for this to be achieved.

In this study, Wang and team tested a potential collision avoidance system that included auditory, visual, and touch-related feedback. The system consisted of simple auditory prompts such as "turn right," lights around a joystick indicating directions of movement by lighting up, and restricted joystick movement in the directions with obstacles.

In total, five long-term care home residents with mild or moderate cognitive impairments who were aged 63 to 86 years tested the system. They each took part in six 1-hour sessions with the chair and collision avoidance device.

Obstacles were simulated by the investigator manually stopping the chair by pressing a remote sensor button; the patient then attempted to navigate around the "obstacle" with the help of the auditory, visual, and touch-related feedback.

The investigators and participants completed a combination of feedback interviews, observations, and outcome questionnaires during and following the test sessions.

Wang and colleagues concede that their study is small and that further research is needed to perfect this technology. For example, the participants felt that the maximum speed of 1.8 km/hour was too slow.

However, the system allowed the participants to complete basic driving tasks and self-identified indoor mobility goals, with four of the five patients concluding that they would like the opportunity to use such a device in future if given the opportunity.

All the patients perceived the workload involved with using the device to be low and were generally satisfied with the experience. The patients felt that the combined feedback was useful in helping them navigate around obstacles.

"Future evaluation will include testing the device as a training tool in addition to as an augmentative power mobility device to promote independence in a larger number of long-term-care residents who are currently mobility dependent," write Wang et al in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development.

By Helen Albert

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