BACKGROUND: People with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (PwALS) in the advanced phase are critically affected by an almost total loss of mobility and severe communication problems. Scanning access based on the patient's interaction with a sensor (or switch) that intercepts even a weak body movement is a valid communication aid. However, its use becomes limited with the progressive decline of residual movements. To overcome this problem, we designed a new sensor, the Lever Magnetic-spring Mechanical Switch (LeMMS), allowing repeated activation/release cycles requiring a very small activation force.
METHODS: The LeMMS was applied and validated in a group of 20 PwALS in an advanced stage of disease. All subjects were regular users of communication aids employing other sensors, but which they could no longer operate their sensors (different from LeMMS). Patients were assessed at baseline (t0) and after one (t1), 6 (t2) and 12 (t3) months. Assessment at t0 included administration of standardized clinical scales, the Click-Test-30 counting the maximum number of LeMMS activations in 30 s, and thumb/fingers strength assessment with the Kendall scale. The QUEST 2.0-Dev questionnaire was administered at t1. Some use-related information and the Click-Test-30 were collected at t1, t2 and t3.
RESULTS: After one training session, all patients could operate the LeMMS with minimal residual movement of one finger. At t1, they used it on average 5.45 h/day. The mean score of the QUEST 2.0-Dev was 4.63, suggesting strong satisfaction with the LeMMS. Regarding Click-Test-30 scores, no significant difference was found between t0 and t1, but performance at t2 and t3 declined significantly (p < 0.005 vs. t0). At t3, 9/20 patients were still able to use their communication aid.
CONCLUSIONS: This new switch sensor can enable PwALS to use their communication aids for a prolonged time even in the advanced phase of disease. It is easy to use, reliable and cheap, thus representing an intermediate alternative to more sophisticated and costly devices.