to top

Prototype launch of devices to help young people with arthritis manage their condition

7 Nov 2022

This week, young people with arthritis begin testing three prototype devices designed to support them. Researcher Ursula Ankeny has worked with staff at Sheffield Children’s Hospital to develop three prototypes. The participants (aged between 6 and 16) will test the devices, which use heat, vibration and smart watch technology.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is a condition which is diagnosed in around 1500 children each year in the UK. Support products currently available are aimed at adults and not always suitable for children to use. Sheffield Hallam University, Lab4Living, NIHR CYP-MedTech and Sheffield Children’s Hospital have jointly funded the
JIA Toolbox
to create three ‘proof of concept’ designs specifically to support children and young people. Ursula began her research in this area during her BA Product Design course at Sheffield Hallam University. Learnings from this will then feed into her PhD study, which looks at how co-design techniques can support the most invisible aspects of managing a long term paediatric condition.

Related: Funding awarded to develop novel technologies for Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Management

Baseline data collection

Using data collection packs Ursula has designed, young people have been recording details about their condition over the last two weeks. Working with the research team, each participants has come up with four personal goals for improvement over the next five weeks when they test the prototypes. They will continue to log their progress and symptoms while the three devices record data, such as how participants use the different settings. Following this phase, the findings will be collated and analysed to inform further developments.

Three prototypes

Heating device

This device heats and vibrates to distract the brain from pain. Unlike a traditional wheat bag, it can be secured on a leg or arm.

Physio tool

This motivational device is strapped onto your joint (knee or ankle). As you do your exercise, it lights up, to gamify the experience. Predominantly it is for lower limb use (for which there are no existing products), but it could also be used on the elbow.

Communication tool

To help with communication in classroom between teacher and student, this device uses vibration to silently ask for help. A simple traffic light system sends pre-agreed alerts to the teacher via a smart watch.

Ursula has been working with Dan Hawley (consultant rheumatologist) and Catherine Dunbar (OT) at Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Sheffield Hallam University engineering staff to develop the prototypes. She reflects on the study so far:

It has been great working with the electronic engineers on the electronics and coding. Because this is a ‘proof of concept’ study, the biggest learning curve has been getting the electronics to work while keeping the size down. Currently all the devices are bigger than intended and we hope to decrease the size if the trial demonstrates they are of benefit.
I’m excited to see the prototypes in use and see how much they help, and see what ways we can improve them in the next stage.

Project page: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) Toolbox to encourage self-management