In a statement, researchers from MIT say early results suggest the wristband could collect clinically useful information about epilepsy patients without them being required to go into hospital, and even alerts sufferers to early signs of severe seizures.
Researchers originally designed the sensor to gauge the emotional states of children with autism, whose outward behaviour can be at odds with what they’re feeling. The sensor measures the electrical conductance of the skin, an indicator of the state of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the human fight-or-flight response.
As many children with autism also have seizures, when Rosalind Picard, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, and her team reviewed their data, they found these were sometimes preceded by huge spikes in skin conductance. And so it appeared their sensors might actually be able to predict the onset of seizures.
“The realization that the wrist sensors might be of use in treating epilepsy was something of a fluke, “ said Picard in a statement.
About one person in 30 in the UK develops epilepsy at some stage, according to patient.co.uk and in people who suffer frequent seizures, it is estimated that about one in 200 dies of SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death In Epilepsy) each year.
Picard’s team went on design their own wristband and test them on patients with severe epilepsy. Since the patients in the hospital-based study were children, student researcher Ming-Zher Poh allowed them to choose their favourite character on their wristband.
In the same statement Stephan Schuele, director of the Epilepsy Center at Northwestern University’s Medical Faculty Foundation, who was not involved in the research, said: “I think the result is very valuable, particularly in this population, because [the wristband] doesn’t respond 20 times a day to any seizures. It only responds if you do have a very, very severe seizure. And it seems to be reliably responding to that.”
Louise Cousins, spokesperson for Epilepsy Action, told Huffpost Lifestyle: "Our charity welcomes any new technology that may help people with epilepsy manage their condition. This research is in its early stages, but could prove to be an exciting development for those with condition.
"If wristbands are able to alert someone when they are about to have a seizure, this could help them to take steps to make sure they are safe. They could also be a useful tool for carers of people with epilepsy."
Cousins added that further research is needed to establish whether the wristbands could reduce the risk of epilepsy-related death.
"There are steps people with epilepsy can take to help to manage the risk of SUDEP. These include always taking anti-epileptic drugs as prescribed and avoiding situations which may trigger seizures such as lack of sleep or stress," she said.
"Although SUDEP is rare, it is vital that people with epilepsy and their families are made aware of it. Doctors should inform patients with epilepsy about SUDEP and how to manage the risks associated with it."