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New technology may help nerve disorders, disabilities

Although spinal injuries are perhaps the most recognizable cause of nerve disorders, there are many other conditions that may result in peripheral neuropathy, or a disruption in the signals between the brain and the rest of the body. When that communication is impaired, an individual may be unable to use his hands, let alone perform work duties like writing, typing on a keyboard, answering phones, or operating electronic devices.

New Jersey readers may already know of one common example of peripheral neuropathy: carpal tunnel syndrome. Workers with that impairment have sustained damage to their carpal tunnel nerve, which runs through the wrist and carries brain signals to the hands. The damage usually involves nerve compression caused by repetitive stress on the nerve. Symptoms may include numbness in their wrists, an inability to grip a mouse or other object, and limited finger mobility. In severe cases, workers may no longer be able to perform their office duties, due to an inability to use their computers.

Peripheral neuropathy can also result from medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, infections like AIDS or shingles, and even alcoholism. Diabetic neuropathy may manifest as tingling or los of sensation in the limbs, organ dysfunction, and joint injuries. However, symptoms can widely vary. For that reason, eligibility for Social Security disability insurance benefits usually required medical evidence of how the neuropathy impairs work functions.

The prognosis for victims of peripheral neuropathy has historically been grim. However, new research is looking at ways to bypass the damaged nerve lines. One recent breakthrough involves a device, called the BrainAble system, which can read electrical brain signals, and transfer those commands into action. Using sensors that are monitored by a computer, the signals translate brain impulses into movements.

Source:, “New system interprets brain signals of people with disabilities, helps them to interact with their environment,” May 14, 2013

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