Advances in medical care have improved the survival of very low birth weight premature infants but at the same time have also led to an increased number of surviving infants with reduced cerebral growth and long-term neurodevelopmental motor, cognitive, and social morbidities. These complications are met by a lack of early assessment tools for diagnosing developmental delays or abnormalities early on, and acting in the appropriate time frame with targeted therapeutic interventions.
During early development, toddlers use their hands to explore, touch, build, and play, thereby gradually discovering how their actions relate to other people, and to their environment while shaping their cognitive abilities. Two core motor control processes involved in this process are force modulation and planning actions, and movements of one or both hands can be visually monitored in block construction, tool use, and social play tasks.
To systematically assess developmental changes in the abilities to modulate forces and plan motor actions, researchers at the Wyss Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are developing wearable sensors or “flexi-mitts” that toddlers can comfortably wear on their hands. “Flexi-mitts” consist of a liquid circuit architecture embedded within multiple layers of soft elastomeric materials. These soft sensors are placed at the wrist and over each finger joint so that changes in joint angles and fingertip forces may be precisely and simultaneously measured while toddlers are performing specific tasks. The “flexi-mitts” are driven by a wireless, battery-powered circuit, and data from the sensors are collected and integrated by dedicated software. The researchers will be performing a series of measurements over several months of development to compare typically developing toddlers with those born preterm.