Project summary

Good hand function is paramount to the performance of almost all tasks in daily life, such as personal care, leisure and occupation activities. As people get older, one of the functions that often declines is hand function. A reduced hand function can therefore have a dramatic impact on the quality of life of older adults. With IronHand, elderly people will be able to strengthen their grip or get support in hand function through a smart glove during execution of functional tasks. In this way, elderly people, especially those with weak grip, are empowered to continue managing their occupation and community activities.

Reduced grip strength is related to health complications and disability in elderly. An important risk factor for degenerative loss of muscle strength with ageing (sarcopenia) is lack of exercise. So by enabling elderly people to remain active and to continue using their hands during functional activities with a smart and innovative glove, their activity level can be maintained, and may even improve. This is especially promising for elderly that are already affected by sarcopenia, or suffering from hand-impairing diseases such as stroke or rheaumatoid arthritis.

The IronHand glove will enhance hand grip and support hand function, with a system that is lightweight and compact, so it can be used unobtrusively during personal, leisure and occupational tasks. It is triggered by an intention detection logic that activates the support if, and only if, the user initiates a movement, and in combination with adaptive support algorithms it still requires a mildly challenging effort from the users, instead of completely replacing their force.

In addition, a monitoring function is incorporated by adaptive training software with computerized exercises, displayed on an external screen to which the glove can be connected (tv, pc or smartphone). The exercise programme is personalized using environmental data (e.g., the type of occupation) for motivation. Sensors integrated with the glove will also collect usage data, which will be sent remotely to the display. This system allows users to monitor changes in grip activities during everyday life, which may not only identify older people at risk of a disability, but also enables the elderly to apply the correct strategies to help maintain muscle strength and hand function. This data can also be accessed by therapists or doctors for remote monitoring, especially in the case of elderly that are recovering from hand-impairing conditions.