Image: Heath Reed, principal industrial designer on the Head-Up Project, and Moya Briggs examining the new collar (Photo courtesy of Sheffield Hallam University).
A revolutionary new support collar could help motor neurone disease (MND) patients carry out fundamental tasks.
Developed by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom), the University of Sheffield (United Kingdom), and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (United Kingdom), the “Head-Up” collar sits low on the patient’s neck, offering support along the contours of the neck muscles, thus making it much easier for MND patients to carry out everyday tasks such as eating and communicating. The inconspicuous device also offers more support than current neck braces, thus bringing relief to muscles at the back of the neck.
The Head-Up project combined clinical comfort assessment and an engineering simulation of the head, neck, and upper torso using finite element analysis and body geometry obtained via a three dimensional (3D) laser scan. The data was used to model a neck without any structural integrity, so that the head will drop without support. The researchers then assessed the geometry of five different neck collar models imported into the body model.
Members of the research team then wore each collar for a day with recovery periods between. During each test period participants recorded locations of pain/discomfort and perceptions of relative associated scales. They recorded other data relating to emotional reactions caused by the collars, impact on specific activities of daily living, and aesthetic considerations. Finally, MND patients played an extensive part in the design workshops for the new collar. The end result was chosen as the winning exhibit in the Design4Health Exhibition, held recently at Sheffield Hallam University.
“I hate the current collar I have to wear, absolutely hate it. When I’m wearing it I feel like an Egyptian mummy, all choked around my neck. For it to give me enough support I’ve got to have it really tight and when it’s tight I feel like I’m choking in it. It makes me feel as if I’m only partly communicating with the world,” said MND sufferer Moya Briggs, 67, who took part in the patient-led project.” I hate the look of my current collar too and I cover it with a scarf. The fact that this new collar is inconspicuous and comfortable will make all the difference.”
MND applies to the following five disorders, which affect either upper motor neurons (UMN) or lower motor neurons (LMN), or both: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), progressive muscular atrophy (PMA), progressive bulbar palsy (PBP), and pseudobulbar palsy. All affect the cells that control voluntary muscle activity including speaking, walking, swallowing, and general movement of the body. They are generally progressive in nature, and cause increasingly debilitating disability and, eventually, death.
Sheffield Hallam University
University of Sheffield
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals