Anita Sant'Anna is a doctoral candidate at the Section for Information Technology, Data and Electronics at Halmstad University, specialising in medical technology. She is originally from Brazil but moved to Sweden when she received a doctoral studentship four years ago.
She is a doctoral student within the framework of the National Graduate School for Entrepreneurship–Health, which means that one half of her research is funded by Sparbanksstiftelsen Kronan (Savings Bank Foundation ‘The Crown’), and the other half by Halmstad University.
“In my research I have mainly focused on carrying out analyses of movements when people are walking. I have especially looked at the quality of gait in various types of patients, such as individuals who have undergone hip operations and Parkinson’s patients.”
“The sensors I use are extremely tiny units that are attached to the top of the foot. One measures acceleration in 3D, while the other measures angle velocity in 3D,” explains Anita Sant´Anna.
During the first phase of her studies she solicited the help of students at Halmstad University to validate her methods. She then went on to Mölndal Hospital, where she studied patients who had undergone hip operations.
“I monitored patients’ ability to move directly after the operation and then once more after three months, when they returned to the hospital for a follow-up. The idea behind using this technology is to see how well patients recover after such an operation,” she says and adds:
“The technique is suitable when it comes to diagnosing individuals with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s. By monitoring how they walk, you can detect changes over time.”
New technology that facilitates rehabilitation
The technique that Anita Sant'Anna has used in her research is relatively new and hasn’t yet been commercialised, which is her goal for the future.
Nike has a simpler variant in its shoes. But their shoes monitor how quickly you walk, not how you walk, or the quality of the gait.
The technique can be used for monitoring elderly people, for example.
“A person’s gait says a great deal about the person’s general health situation — how much the person moves about. If a person suddenly stops walking or if their gait declines drastically, you can draw conclusions and take measures.”
Thus far this simple technology has not been used for medical purposes to any great extent.
“When patients come for a follow-up visit, they are normally asked to answer questions and fill out a questionnaire about how they are getting around. But this is really subjective and can’t be measured with any precision. This technique would be extremely quick and inexpensive to achieve measurable data.”
The nurses Anita Sant'Anna has collaborated with at Mölndal Hospital have expressed their great appreciation of the monitoring instrument.
“The nurses are the people who get close to the patients and see what progress is being made.”
Anita Sant'Anna maintains that this technology could also be used to motivate sick or mobility-impaired people.
“It would help them to become more self-aware and in many cases they could also be stimulated to move about more. You can also use this technique if you want to lose weight.”
Ultimately, Anita Sant'Anna believes this type of technology will be readily available to everybody, as applications in smart phones or in shoes.
“As I said, it’s already available in some Nike shoes, but that technology doesn’t measure the quality but rather the quantity of a person’s gait.”
Text: HANNA JOHANSSON Photo: ROLAND THÖRNER