More than a million people in the U.S. rely on others to complete simple tasks such as brushing teeth, eating, and opening doors, because of neuromuscular disorders caused by muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and other conditions. Soon many will be able to perform everyday activities themselves with the use of a new assistive technology product, the Abilitech Assist, designed to help people live more independently.
Minneapolis-based medical device company Abilitech Medical is launching the device, which facilitates independent control of the arms by supporting and assisting both the shoulder and elbow for people with minimal strength. Software customizes the spring tension to lift objects such as a fork, phone, or water bottle, supporting items that weigh up to 12 ounces.
Abilitech assistive devices are designed to bring life-changing benefits to people with arm weakness, by providing physical independence and help with everyday activities including eating, drinking and using a computer. Another benefit is social independence.
A third issue the manufacturers raise is that of economic benefits, to potentially decrease reliance on caregivers and help people remain in their homes and stay in the workforce longer.
The new device is the first in Abilitech’s future suite of products, which includes a powered handgrip device and a fully robotic voice-controlled arm-hand combination assistive device.
“We’ve worked with leading clinicians across the U.S.” said Angie Conley, Abilitech founder. “Equally as important, every week we work with people, their clinicians, and caregivers to get user feedback. This includes input from an engineer on our team who lives with a spinal cord injury.” Direct patient experience has led to optimal comfort, style, and weight of the device.
Abilitech is conducting clinical trials for the assist at the University of Minnesota and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Other organizations partnering with Abilitech to bring the product to market include Houston Methodist, Texas Children’s Hospital, HealthPartners, and Allina Health Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.
“We’ve accumulated so many compelling stories that illustrate the patient need,” said Conley. One example is Dr. Hanry Samir, a cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care intensivist who lost his ability to work and perform simple functions after a stroke. Samir shared important feedback for the device.
“My dream is to be able to use my arm again, make things easier for my wife, and go back to the profession I love and live for,” said Samir.