U of M researchers have their fingers on the pulse of a project designed to help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.
Dr. Tony Szturm and Dr. Barbara Shay from the university’s School of Medical Rehabilitation, and master’s students Cynthia Swarnalatha and Shiva Shrestha, are developing a finger-hand function study and a novel, computerized assessment and exercise tool.
The Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Canadian Arthritis Network are funding the project.
"It’s like playing a computer game that can pick up almost any object in the world," Szturm said, emphasizing the study is designed to complement, not replace, arthritis medication.
"In two minutes, we can monitor your movement and grade levels of pain or discomfort. We can then create a profile from that information."
Szturm, who lives in Fort Garry, said that a sensor is placed on random objects, such as a coffee cup, wine glass or salad tongs. When moved side to side, the computer sees these objects like a mouse and can record linear and angular movement.
Swarnalatha said in the long-term, the study is designed to "deliver a high quality client-specific hand exercise program through telerehabilitation [the delivery of rehabilitation services via telecommunications networks and the Internet] and to study its effects on changes in impairment and activity limitation."
Szturm said the ultimate goal of the study is to extend the project online for community members to have long-term monitoring, support and medical management of rheumatoid arthritis at their fingertips.
For now, the investigators are looking for volunteers. They will be needed for two one-hour sessions at the team’s research lab at the Rehabilitation Respiratory Hospital on Sherbrook Street.
One past volunteer is Irene Smolik, 57, who said the study opened her eyes to the everyday role of the human body.
"You take your hands for granted," Smolik said. "I was having pain and I couldn’t perform certain movements. The study made me aware of how much I use my hands."
The downtown resident said she found the study "difficult and tiring" at first, but encourages people in pain to volunteer.
"It becomes relaxing and fun because you’re using so many different household objects. The main thing for me is to raise awareness. Also, this research could be applied in your home, which makes it simple and cost-effective."
Participants must be between the ages of 30 and 60 and their fingers or hands must have been affected with pain or reduced joint motion due to arthritis or previous hand injuries. The sessions will involve filling in questionnaires and motion assessments.
According to a Health Canada report entitled Arthritis in Canada, it is estimated that more than six million Canadians aged 15 and older will have arthritis by 2026.
Individuals interested in participating in the study can call Shay at 787-2756 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.