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Wearable motion sensors to continuously measure real-world physical activities


Purpose of review

Rehabilitation for sensorimotor impairments aims to improve daily activities, walking, exercise, and motor skills. Monitoring of practice and measuring outcomes, however, is usually restricted to laboratory-based procedures and self-reports. Mobile health devices may reverse these confounders of daily care and research trials.

Recent findings

Wearable, wireless motion sensor data, analyzed by activity pattern-recognition algorithms, can describe the type, quantity, and quality of mobility-related activities in the community. Data transmission from the sensors to a cell phone and the Internet enable continuous monitoring. Remote access to laboratory quality data about walking speed, duration and distance, gait asymmetry and smoothness of movements, as well as cycling, exercise, and skills practice, opens new opportunities to engage patients in progressive, personalized therapies with feedback about the performance. Clinical trial designs will be able to include remote verification of the integrity of complex physical interventions and compliance with practice, as well as capture repeated, ecologically sound, ratio scale outcome measures.


Given the progressively falling cost of miniaturized wearable gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other physiologic sensors, as well as inexpensive data transmission, sensing systems may become as ubiquitous as cell phones for healthcare. Neurorehabilitation can develop these mobile health platforms for daily care and clinical trials to improve exercise and fitness, skills learning, and physical functioning.

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