February 19, 2014

Tremor-Reducing Spoon: New Mealtime Independence for People with Parkinson's and Essential Tremor?

A new spoon with electronic sensors might be a real dinner-table boon to people with the tremors that accompany Parkinson’s disease (PD) or “essential tremor” (ET).

Developed by California-based Lift Labs, the smartspoon counteracts the user’s trembling by moving the head of the spoon – with nano-second swiftness – in the opposite direction. BINGO. Increased steadiness.

Here's what it looks like:

People with Parkinson’s (PWPs) can manage tremor with medication, but results are – like the disease – highly idiosyncratic. Even if a small percentage of PWPs find help using the new electronic spoon, that’s a lot of reclaimed independence, and a hefty reduction in caregiver hours.

It's not the first application of electronics to assist PWPs. Several months ago, I wrote about the new ankle bracelet that sends auditory cues to its wearer's earpiece when s/he encounters "freezing of gait" (FOG), another motor issue that sometimes accompanies the disease.

I found this video online of a man in his mid 70s who’s been dealing with ET for two decades. We see him eating his breakfast cereal with a regular spoon and with the new electronic, tricked-out version. His tremor is very evident, and it’s hard to imagine how he might manage with conventional flaware:

The “Liftware,” as its inventors call it, could give the man an invaluable new independence. The gadget gives his caregivers a break, too. 

The device costs about $295 and is available to order through the Lift Labs website, which also offers more information about the device.

Here are a few excerpts from reviews I found online:

The Verge
The results aren't perfect, and it's only suitable for those with a 2-inch-or-less tremor, but it's a massive improvement over using a regular spoon. The actual spoon part of the device detaches from the handle for washing, and the handle can be charged in a dock. It's said the battery will last for "several mealtimes.
Gadget Review
.... there is also a related free iOS and Android app called Lift Pulse that can record a person’s tremor using the phone’s built-in accelerometers and calculates its magnitude.
The same way your fancy DSLR lens can automatically track and compensate for vibrations and shaking motions, Lift Labs' incredibly innovative new Liftware Spoon lets those dealing with Parkinson's disease—and the tremors associated with the condition—still feed themselves.
And while it won't be the first utensil on the market to help people with tremors eat with dignity, it's probably the smartest. Many existing utensils, plates, mugs, and "crumb catchers" (yes, these are bibs) are pretty old tech, focusing on ergonomics and extra hand and finger holds.
More specifically, tests conducted at the University of Michigan indicated an average 75 percent reduction in spoon shakiness, when the device was in use and turned on.

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