Amputees who used advanced sensory-enabled prostheses outside the lab reported using the mechanical hand more regularly and for longer periods of time compared to traditional prostheses. They also reported a greater sense of psychosocial well-being, according to a recent study.

The study, conduced by researchers from Case Western Reserve University and published recently in Scientific Reports, suggests that sensory feedback achieved by direct interfaces attached to the nerves fundamentally changed how the study participants used their mechanical attachment, “transforming it from a sporadically used tool into a readily and frequently used ‘hand,'” notes a media release from Case Western Reserve University.

Amputees’ use of the sensory-enabled prosthesis at home, as opposed to in the lab, had an impact on their home lives, the researchers suggest.

“When they’re in the lab, many subjects (in previous studies) have described their prosthesis as nothing more than a tool attached to the end of their residual arm,” says lead researcher Dustin Tyler, associate director of the Advanced Platform Technology Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, in the release.

“Once home, they’d often end up putting a traditional prosthesis on the shelf. We found the opposite to be true when they had a sense of touch—they didn’t want to stop using it,” adds Tyler, the Kent H. Smith Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve.

The subjects in this study used the sensory-enabled prosthesis far longer than the same prosthesis without sensation. One said that giving back the sensory device after the study concluded was “like losing my hand all over again.”

In addition to wearing the artificial hand for more time and for more daily tasks when it was sensory enabled, the participants had greater confidence in using the hand to do tasks and to socially interact with loved ones, states Emily Graczyk, a post-doctoral researcher at Case Western Reserve University and the study’s lead writer.

These psychological and emotional impacts of sensation could be critical for improving amputees’ quality of life, she adds.

In future research, the researchers are looking at implanting devices to route the neural connections through Bluetooth technology to allow the amputee to “feel” the new hand through wireless connections between themselves and the device.

“When you add sensory feedback technology to something like a prosthetic hand, you add the most important thing that connects us together as humans—touch,” Tyler concludes. “That’s a huge difference.”

[Source(s): Case Western Reserve University, EurekAlert]