NeuroNode wearable technology gives hope to sufferers of traumatic brain injuries
Dean Walsh is 32 and for the past five years he hasn’t been able to walk, eat or even speak.
It is the result of a brain injury sustained when he was involved in a car accident near his hometown of Leeton in southern New South Wales.
Kristal Ashcroft has been Dean’s carer since the day he was released from hospital following the crash in 2012. She is one of 10 carers who provide constant care for him.
“It’s hard not knowing what he wants, you know, because you want to give that better quality of life as best you can,” Ms Ashcroft said.
“But with him not talking, it’s difficult — you don’t know what he wants.
New technology offers hope
But now a wearable device called a NeuroNode has offered Dean’s family and carers a glimmer of hope that communication does not have to be impossible.
The NeuroNode sits on Dean’s skin and records an electrical impulse when he attempts to move a muscle and shares that with a tablet.
It means that when Dean is asked a question, he can attempt to move a muscle to indicate ‘yes’, which will then be conveyed as a beep through the tablet.
His dad, Brian Walsh, has been astounded with the results.
“It might not be much to some people but to us it’s absolutely huge,” Mr Walsh said. “It’s enormous.
“Dean loves it. He gets his arm going and his beeping going. In those moments, it seems like life’s good for him.
“It’s not what he had before but it’s good.”
Mr Walsh was so impressed with the NeuroNode, he paid $34,000 out of his own pocket to donate two of the devices to Liverpool and Westmead hospitals.
“If we could just help one or two people, that’d be enough for me,” he said.
“But I believe the device is capable of helping more than just one or two people.”
Device could be life-changer
Dr Mary-Clare Waugh, a rehabilitation specialist from Westmead Children’s Hospital, said she was thrilled by the possibilities the NeuroNode offered patients.
“This is really exciting, to be able to use something as new and as advanced in technology as this, and it’s so small as well,” Dr Waugh said.
“To be able to communicate with children coming out of a coma, following their brain injury, or allowing children who have severe cerebral palsy to be able to talk to us [is incredible].
“I’m hoping it will make a huge difference to the children we’re caring for.”
The NeuroNode is the work of inventor Peter Ford, who is the founder of Control Bionics. It’s been tested on physicist Steven Hawking and is being used to help US war veterans who have trouble communicating.
“We don’t rely on the movement of the muscle,” Mr Ford explained.
“We rely on the electrical signal inside the muscle, and it becomes so much easier to make a signal.
“The extraordinary thing is the look in someone’s face the first time they make a signal because they may have been told that they’re going to be locked in for the rest of their lives.
“They see the possibility of their life changing.”
It may just be a simple beep but for Mr Walsh it makes all the difference.
“You’ve got to accept that Dean’s not coming back to work at the farm anymore but this is a device that can help out heaps.”