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Potential At-Home Therapy for Veterans with Limb Loss

By Katherine Bach and Brad Isaacson, PhD, MBA

Researchers from the Uniformed Services University (USU) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) showcased the Rehabilitation Lower-Limb Orthopedic Analysis Device (ReLOAD) system, a device that amputees can use for at home therapy, at the first annual ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival.

The event, which celebrates the nexus of science, engineering, arts, and design in an effort to showcase new interdisciplinary technologies developed to address global challenges, was held at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, and sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the Smithsonian Museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

The research group, nine people total, stand for a group photo
Research team members from the Department of Rehabilitation at the Uniformed Services University, University of Miami and Miami VA Hospital. (Image credit: University of Miami)

Led by Paul Pasquina, MD, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at USU and Rehabilitation Medicine at WRNMMC, along with Ignacio Gaunaurd, PhD, PT, and his team from the Miami Veterans Affairs Health System and University of Miami, the researchers aim to address the decreased access to consistent outpatient care some amputees experience after initially recovering from limb loss. Their research is part of an ongoing multi-site study sponsored by a DoD/VA Joint Incentive Fund grant awarded to USU and Miami VA.

The ReLOAD system employs a mobile array of wearable sensors that individuals with amputation, including wounded warriors and veterans can utilize for “at home” therapy.  The system connects to an iPad and captures kinematic motion data during walking and then uses this data to provide real-time auditory feedback to the user in the form of music warping and voice commands in order to improve the user’s gait and walking patterns.

A young woman smiles as she walks using the ReLOAD device. Dr. Gaunaurd smiles as he walks next to her.
Co-Principle Investigator, Dr. Ignacio Gaunaurd, walks with a study participant, while
demonstrates the ReLOAD system. (Image credit: University of Miami)
The ReLOAD system is being used in support of the Mobile Device Outcomes-Based Rehabilitation Program (MDORP) study, a research project enrolling service members and veterans with lower limb loss to investigate the potential benefits of using the ReLOAD system as a means of delivering at home, telerehabilitation.

It is estimated that more than 2 million Americans currently live with limb loss, including numerous wounded warriors and veterans. According to Pasquina, “One of the most critical elements of recovery after lower limb amputation is the ability to successfully use a prosthesis (artificial limb) to promote independent mobility.”

Reduced mobility and improper gait mechanisms can lead to increased health problems such as cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, chronic pain, and reduced quality of life. Decreased access to consistent outpatient care complicates the rehabilitation of individuals with limb loss, especially those with reduced mobility. “The MDORP study [the parent study of the ReLOAD system],” he says, “aims to improve rehabilitation and health by providing state-of-the-science home therapy.”