PhotoWhat don’t smartphones do today? Because it seems they’re pretty much made to be a thousand gadgets in one.

Smartphones can quickly morph into full-on television sets that users can prop up, then sit back and watch brand-new shows that just aired the night before.

They can be excellent compasses too. Smartphones can guide you to safety through unfamiliar regions of foreign addresses, strange roads and desolate towns--but they can locate the nearest Taco Bell for you too, which may not be a lifesaving component, but try telling that to the person who hasn’t eaten all day and has a 99-cent greasy burrito on their mind.

Smartphones can be mini-arcades, electronic matchmakers, virtual assistants, fitness trainers, cooking teachers, encyclopedias, little stereo systems and the list goes on and on.

Oh yeah, they can make phone calls too, which is the last thing people use them for nowadays. (Good thing too, because it's one of the things they actually don't do very well).

Physical rehabilitation

Now researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center are on the front lines of studying a new physical rehabilitation method that uses the same Bluetooth technology that smartphones use to help stroke survivors move their arms and legs.

Leading the study is Wexner's Stephen Page, PhD, who says using this innovative technology will allow doctors to better determine how a  patient is improving with their movements and it'll tell them which body parts are working in unison as well.

Dr. Stephen Page

“These moving body parts are in a constant state of motion, but with this technology we can figure out how they are all working together,” said Dr. Page. “This gives us the ability to objectively, precisely, figure out at the bedside or in a rehab facility, how well someone is improving.”

The new rehabilitation technique works through electronic sensors being attached to the arms, legs and chests of patients and those sensors are then linked to a computer, where they can communicate with each other and keep track of each sensor's location to determine what direction those sensors are moving in.

Page says this same technology is exactly what’s used in the everyday smartphones that we use.

“The same technology you use when you’re playing a video game or when you’re taking your cell phone and turning it upside down or turning sideways and the picture adjusts to that,” Page says.

Works anywhere

In addition, he explains the Bluetooth technology can be used in just about any setting.

“The nice thing about this technology is we can do it anywhere,” says Page. “We can do it up the steps, we can do it in the kitchen -- anywhere that walking or balance is important is a place where we can capture how well the person is moving.”

Page and his team have been using this new technology specifically for those patients recovering from a stroke. At the conclusion of their research, they hope to find out if electrical stimulation, along with movement, will effectively retrain one’s brain to do things like sit up, stand or walk.

“The stepping motion on a recumbent bike uses similar parts of the brain as when a person is actually walking,” explained Page. “We are trying to recruit new areas of the brain, around the stroke-damaged areas, which is called ‘neuroplasticity,’ and get those areas to hopefully control walking again.”

In an informational video, Kelly Franklin, who’s a stroke survivor and one of Page’s patients, said using the technology has helped her tremendously so far.

This technology has “taken me a long way,” she said. “I couldn’t even sit up straight. I couldn’t even sit up about a year and a half ago.”

In addition, part of the study was to dispel the common belief among many rehab experts that a stroke survivor’s level of improvement tends to peak within a year of suffering a stroke.

Page says this belief simply isn’t true and using this new technology is his  way of dispelling it.

“We have shown in more than a decade of studies that this belief is not true, and we expect to show that with this intervention,” he says. “Stroke survivors can continue to get better and see meaningful gains years after their stroke."

According to the CDC, strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the United States, taking the lives of about 130,000 each year.

Overall, 795,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke every year and one out of four get recurring strokes, so Page and his team are extremely eager to see what else they'll learn while delving into this new technology.

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