Groundbreaking technology is helping people with degenerative conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) feed themselves, send emails and text messages.
MND is an incurable condition that causes muscles to gradually weaken, stiffen and waste away – eventually making it impossible for patients to walk, talk, move or eat by themselves.
As part of Queensland’s Mater hospitals’ in-home and community healthcare service, two new innovative systems are being used to help restore the independence of patients.
The Obi eating device allows users to feed themselves by operating a robotic arm with fingertip controls – or even with the movement of their eyes. Meanwhile, the NeuroNode Triology system enables users to control a screen through eye movements – allowing them to browse the internet, watch TV shows and movies, and send and receive SMS and email messages.
The two systems were trialled by Kemal Omar, a 57-year-old IT professional who was diagnosed with MND four years ago.
For Mr Omar, mealtimes were previously frustrating, as he completely relied on his wife Zubeida or one of his children to feed him. Now, the family is eating together again.
“Before the Obi there were always two people missing from the table – myself and the person feeding me,” Mr Omar recalls.
“But with the Obi, we can sit at the table together. It removes the guilt I felt of taking someone’s time to feed me. Mealtimes are much better now.”
Mater at Home Operations Manager Geoff White said there was increasing demand for healthcare services to be delivered to people in their own homes and communities.
“New technology – and advances in existing technologies – are enabling us to meet this need while also reducing the number of people requiring admission to hospital,” he said.
“Caring for people in their own homes, amongst their family, friends and communities, often leads to improved outcomes and quality of life.”
Mrs Omar described the device as a ‘godsend’ for the family.
“Kemal enjoys doing things for himself and now he has the independence to choose what he eats for himself,” she said.
“Mealtimes are stress-free. We can sit and chatter and our grandson loves watching the Obi feed his grandfather.”
The NeuroNode Trilogy has also enabled Kemal to stay in touch with his friends and work colleagues.
“Before we had the eye gaze technology, Kemal would have to rely on someone else to help him use his computer, which was frustrating for an IT person like him,” Mrs Omar said.
“Now he can keep up with everyone through WhatsApp and emails. During the day, he can watch movies, do research and read online. It has given him so much more independence and wellbeing and it helps him to not think about his illness.”
Mater at Home occupational therapist Rachael McDonough said the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) had become a ‘game changer’ for MND patients under 65, by finally providing secure public funding for state-of-the-art, life-changing assistive technologies.
“I’m amazed at how far robotic technology has come and the difference it can make to people’s live,” Ms McDonough said.
“This technology has enabled Kemal to become part of his family again at mealtimes – and that’s wonderful for all of them. Our goal is to give people choice and control – and this exciting technology is helping us achieve that.”