Researchers in Georgia have developed a glove which seems to improve touch sensation and motor skills for people with severe spinal cord injuries.
The Mobile Music Touch (MMT) looks like a regular workout glove, except for the small box mounted on the back.
Along with a piano keyboard, the glove is used to help people with spinal cord injuries learn to play the piano by vibrating the player’s fingers to show which keys they should play.
Some people who used the musical glove for these specialized piano lessons experienced improved sensation in their fingers after their sessions.
The volunteers suffered their injury at least a year before this study and had very little feeling or movement in their hands.
The participants were required to practice playing the piano for a half hour, three times a week for eight weeks. Half of them used the MMT glove to practice and the other half did not.
Researchers also had the participants wear the glove at home after or before practice, for two hours a day, five days a week, feeling only the vibration from the device.
The researchers hoped the volunteers would receive some rehabilitative effects from passively wearing the device while doing regular, everyday activities.
“After our preliminary work in 2011, we suspected that the glove would have positive results for people with SCI,” said Tanya Markow, the project leader. “But we were surprised by how much improvement they made in our study. For example, after using the glove, some participants were able to feel the texture of their bed sheets and clothes for the first time since their injury.”
(Video: Georgia Institute of Technology)
Along with the specially-equipped glove, the Mobile Music Touch system works with a computer, MP3 player or smart phone.
The system is then programmed with a song which is wirelessly linked to the glove. As the song plays, its musical notes are illuminated on the piano keys and the device then sends vibrations to “tap” the corresponding fingers.
After the eight weeks, the researchers had their volunteers perform a number of grasping and sensation tests so they could measure for any improvement.
The researchers found that those who used the MMT system performed significantly better than the others who just learned the piano normally.
“Some people were able to pick up objects more easily,” said Markow. “Another said he could immediately feel the heat from a cup of coffee, rather than after a delay.”
Markow believes the increased motor abilities are due to renewed brain activity that sometimes can become dormant in people with spinal cord injuries.
She thinks that the vibrations produced by the MMT system might trigger activity in the hand’s sensory cortex, which leads to firing in the brain’s motor cortex.
Markow would like to take her research with the MMT further to include functional MRI results.