System brings hope for stroke victims

'Im-Able' system helping stroke victims

Last updated 05:00 10/03/2014
 Colin Weston

ARM MOBILISING: Stroke victim Colin Weston tries out an Im-Able product helped by wife Fiona.

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A Lower Hutt company's games system for stroke victims could soon become part of rehabilitation programmes worldwide.

But Im-Able chief executive Elliot Kernohan admits there is still a lot of work to do as its product undergoes a year-long trial in Australia's Royal Melbourne hospital this year.

The company's Able-X handheld games system, developed in collaboration with Callaghan Innovation, was first introduced in 2010.

It aims to help restore movement in stroke victims through exercise and brain stimulation using an air mouse which connects to computers and has users playing simple games aimed at particular movements.

Im-Able recently announced it was being trialled at the Royal Melbourne Hospital as part of its dedicated "Hand Hub" study, which is assessing the benefits of upper-limb rehabilitation immediately after a stroke.

The commercialised stroke recovery technology retails for about $920, or can be rented from $40 a month. About 450 have been sold so far, though more than 1000 patients have used the device in about 12 different countries.

Kernohan, who became involved with the company about two years ago, said upper limb rehabilitation was neglected in the funded healthcare system.

Im-Able had shifted its strategy towards the healthcare system itself, rather than purely selling to individual patients after they had been discharged.

"We've got an ageing population; medicine is getting very very good at saving lives, so the need for rehabilitation after is getting greater.

"There are gaps in the provision of care in the public health system and those gaps exist because resources are very tight."

He said the Melbourne trial differed from other stroke care because Im-Able's system would be integrated into the hospital stay of a patient.

The product had originally been designed for people to use at home after being discharged, but early trials suggested victims could use the system as early as two or three days after having a stroke.

Colin Weston, of Wellington, randomly suffered a stroke while on a mountain biking holiday in Queenstown. He was in hospital for three months, but little attention was given to mobilising his upper limbs, his wife, Fiona, said. Instead she would visit him every day to massage his arms.

After he was discharged Colin started using the system, for just five minutes at a time initially, but within a few months Fiona had to up the difficulty level.

"We started in April and by August he had graduated from using the bar to the pistol grip.

"Colin's actually an ex-sniper; somewhere back in his memory that old pistol grip came back."

She said there had been no rehabilitation for him in hospital, but using the Able-X for just 15 minutes a day had rapidly improved his recovery.

The Melbourne trial was "totally what's required" for stroke victims, she said.

"People are not being given the opportunity to reach their potential. But yes, not everybody's as motivated as Colin, not everybody's as aggressive as I am."

Kernohan said there was something of a global footprint for the product already but integrating it into global health systems would be a key step in its growth.

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He hoped the trial would provide evidence of how the technology could improve patient recovery rates while reducing pressure on hospital resources.

"I wouldn't for a moment suggest that our Able-X system is a silver bullet that fixes the problem, but what it provides is an anchor, it's part of the story. I think that's really cool, it's an enabler."

- Wellington

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