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Physio is part of project to develop ‘smart specs’ for facial palsy rehab

12 July 2017 - 5:15pm

A physiotherapist is helping to develop ‘smart specs’, a virtual reality headset and an app that will help rehabilitate people with facial palsy.

Facial palsy 'smart specs' team

Project researchers: Charles Nduka with Vanessa Venables and Catriona Neville, who supported Facial Palsy Awareness Week by painting their faces

Catriona Neville is an extended scope physiotherapist, specialising in facial palsy, at Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex.

She is part of the Facial Remote Activity Monitoring Eyewear (Frame) project, which has received funding of £800,000 from the National Institute for Health Research, as part of its Invention for Innovation programme.

‘The aim is to develop eyewear that can give instant feedback on a patient’s facial muscles,’ she told Frontline.

‘It will have mini-sensors that will measure facial symmetry, track the movement and activity of muscles, how intense those movements are and allow patients to get real time feedback about their facial muscle activity.’

The smart specs will also provide wearers with visual and sensory feedback, using lights and vibration, to let them know when they should focus on relaxing overactive muscles.

Ms Neville added that Queen Victoria Hospital’s lead speech and language therapist Vanessa Venables and consultant plastic surgeon Charles Nduka are working closely with her on the project.

Rehab avatars

‘Our patients really dislike seeing their reflection, but a mirror is currently the most important rehab tool when facial muscles have a lack of proprioception,’ said Ms Neville.

‘But the eyewear will interact with an app on their phone or iPad that will enable them to see an avatar of their face doing the movements that their face is doing, in real time, without them having to see their face in a mirror.’

The initiative is a collaboration between Queen Victoria Hospital, Brighton-based technology company Emteq, Nottingham Trent and Coventry universities and charity Facial Palsy UK. The two-year project started in September last year.

A specialist facial palsy service opened at the Queen Victoria Hospital in 2007 and was the first of its kind in the UK.

Ms Neville leads the service’s multidisciplinary therapy team and chairs Facial Therapist Specialists UK, a multidisciplinary group of therapists that aims to ensure facial palsy patients have access to quality care.

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