Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic condition. It causes issues with the motor neurons that connect the brain and spinal cord. Walking, running, sitting up, breathing, and even swallowing can be difficult for people with SMA. Those with SMA often need a range of specialized medical equipment.
There’s currently no cure for SMA. But there have been many new and exciting technological advancements. These can offer people with SMA improved mobility, better treatments, and a greater quality of life.
3-D printed exoskeletons
The very first exoskeleton for children with SMA became available in 2016. It’s now possible to print a three-dimensional prototype of the device thanks to advancements in the 3-D printing industry. The device can help children walk for the first time. It uses adjustable, long support rods that fit the child’s legs and torso. It also involves a series of sensors that link to a computer.
People with SMA are less mobile. Simple tasks like turning off the lights can be difficult. Environmental control technology allows people with SMA to take complete control of their world. They can wirelessly control their TV, air conditioner, lights, DVD players, speakers, and more. All they need is a tablet or computer.
Some controllers even come with a USB microphone. Voice commands can activate the service. It can also include an emergency alarm to call for help with the push of a button.
Wheelchair technology has come a long way. Your child’s occupational therapist may be able to tell you about powered wheelchair options that are available. One example is the Wizzybug, a powered wheelchair for toddlers. The wheelchair is for both inside and outside use. It’s operated with simple controls.
Adaptive tricycles are another option. They give your child the ability to interact with their peers and also get some exercise.
Tablets are small and easier to manage than laptops or desktop PCs. They are customizable for your child. They can also include voice recognition, digital assistants (like Siri), and other features. These can be set up with mounts, switches, styluses, accessible keyboards, and mobile arm controls.
Accessories for wheelchairs allow you to mount a cellphone or tablet to the wheelchair.
Tablets give your toddler the ability to explore, even if they can’t move around a lot. For older children, a tablet can mean playing an instrument like drums in a school band. Apps for musical instruments can even be hooked up to an amp so your child can learn to play.
Eye-tracking software, like the technology developed at EyeTwig, offers another option for computer interaction. It identifies and tracks movement of your child’s head using the camera on your computer or tablet.
Orthoses built right into clothing, like the Playskin Lift, are less bulky than exoskeletons. Mechanical inserts in the clothing help small children lift up their arms. Researchers found the technology inexpensive, easy to use, functional, and comfortable. New and improved versions of the technology will likely come soon.
Devices and new medications like these don’t just improve the quality of life of those with SMA. They also offer them greater flexibility to take part in all aspects of what people might consider a “normal” life.
Exoskeleton designs, accessibility software, and new medications are only the beginning of new technological advancements. All of these improvements can help with treatment for SMA and other muscular disorders.
Contact your local SMA care team for information about insurance coverage, rentals, and a list of nonprofits that may be able to help. You can also contact the company directly to see if they offer rentals, financing, or discounts.