30 June 2011

Will "Bionic Bodies" Offer High-Tech Hope to the Disabled?

On June 28, PBS Newshour ran a segment about technological advances in prostheses -- the use of "bionics" -- that are now being tested with real people (you can view the segment online). The word "bionics" is gradually becoming accepted among researchers as a descriptor of the fusion of biology and electronics -- an apt application for advanced technology prostheses. In the segment, they talk about advances that have come out of military research (including the arm created by Dean Kamen, funded by DARPA). Technologies that aid mobility, manipulation, vision and sight are demonstrated. I highly recommend viewing the piece.
An avid supporter of technology and research, I have high hopes that someday I too will personally benefit -- that in the future my movements will become more and more natural and that I will be able to do more of what I did before. (Ah -- if I could once again ride my mountain bike through the aspen groves of the San Juan Mountains...) For all disabled people, this could improve quality of life and increase our ability to contribute to society.
Whenever the advanced capabilities of new prosthetic limbs are compared to natural limbs, however, I confess I feel a bit angry. This new stuff is amazing and wonderful, yet in the excitement and celebration of the new achievements there needs to be an acknowledgment that there is nothing like the real thing, that there is no real substitute. In the PBS Newshour segment, I was pleased to hear Dean Kamen admit "I don't know anybody today that would say, 'yeah, I'd rather have your arm than the original equipment'," as he raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.


"Merging Man and Machine: The Bionic Age," National Geographic, January 2010

If you've already educated yourself about the prosthetic options that are available and those that we'll see in the not-too-distant future, then this article won't offer any surprises. But it offers an easy read and great graphics for educating others -- useful for amputees to share with family and friends. It has explanations of how advances in technology have helped to create better prostheses. For example, in a "bionic" arm, neural impulses are transmitted to electrodes that then trigger muscle movements in the shoulder or upper arm; electrodes placed on those muscles capture the brain's impulses and relay those commands via wires to motors that operate the elbow, wrist and fingers. Similarly, neural implant technology is used to help the deaf and blind. View the entire article online at NationalGeographic.com.


I'm now a featured blogger on Amputee Empowerment Partners

I was recently invited by Carrie Davis, founder of Amputee Empowerment Partners, to be a featured blogger on this social networking site created especially for amputees, families, caregivers and friends. AEP was founded as a safe place for people to share their feelings, thoughts, ideas and resources. I was introduced to the site by another AKA, Todd, who I met at the monthly Gaylord Hospital amputee support group meeting. Not sure what to expect, I joined the site and before I knew it I was posting queries about knee technology and offering support to others. There are two million amputees in the U.S., and over half of those are lower limb amputees, yet I the first amputee I ever met was myself. It's easy to feel isolated and unique -- and difficult to remember that there are a million people out there who have had a similar experience.
I'm honored to be selected as a featured blogger and because AEP is a members-only site, I hope to share my posts here as well. Of course, you can also join AEP.