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Technological Research

Technological Research

So called assistive technology is of fundamental importance for the quality of life of people affected by ALS. Technological research provides  products, devices and other equipment that are used to maintain, increase or improve the functional capabilities of the patient, ranging from simplest items to devices that involve advanced electronic and computer-based technology.

Many devices have been designed so far to preserve the ability to perform daily tasks by modifying commonly used items including adaptable clothing, rocker knifes, innovative beds and sleep products designed to cope with  limited mobility, offset eating utensils,  rising or lift chairs. Other assistive devices are aimed at labor- and energy-saving by making use of  the stronger or unaffected muscles to increase efficiency and performance of common everyday jobs. For example, the button hook, zipper pull, handwriting aids, toilet aids, devices that increase leverage to aid in operating different objects such as knobs, keys, handles or controls. Mobility and support equipment include leg braces, head and neck support, hand support, canes, walkers, diverse wheelchairs and scooters.

Distinct category of highly technological electronic auxiliaries that draws  major attention regards augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The fact that cognition and vision are unaffected in ALS underlies the importance of development of the writing and typing systems that would allow unlimited expression. The communication devices available at the time are designed while taking into consideration both speech and movement impairment in ALS patients, as well as progressive nature of the disease. Today's AAC devices include dedicated machines designed solely for generating speech or written text, and specialized software programs for personal computers. The device access options vary depending on the type and severity of the disease. Thus input methods span diverse switch or mouse alternatives, from simple buttons joysticks or touch screens, to high-tech eye tracking systems and head mouse. Although eye-tracking technology is improving, its performance is not yet ideal in all lighting and postural conditions. The same is true for head tracking technology where limited range of head movement may affect calibration. Other basic hardware and software elements of interest include keyboard alternatives (ergonomic and keyless keyboards)  and keystroke-saving features (word prediction, encoding symbol or text-based systems, or scanning features), respectively. In addition,  voice/speech recognition software has been developed for people with ALS who are unable to type on a computer, but can speak clearly. Advanced technology development isn't confined to generation or replacement of speech supplements. It gives people with limited muscle strength or abilities many options for accessing personal computers and thus e-mail, the internet and other programs. Moreover so-called environmental control units enable a controlled interface with devices such as telephone or intercom, and can be programmed  for jobs such as switching channels on the TV set, turning on lights, controlling video or audio systems, adjusting a thermostat or enabling a home security system.

One of the major challenge of current technological research is development of low- or high- technology devices that would further improve the communication capability and overall autonomy of ALS patients, and would be available at affordable prices, having thus a dramatic positive impact on every-day life of ALS patients and their families.

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