School of Medicine

Wearable motion detectors identify subtle motor deficits in children

Noah Drozda shows off a pair of motion detectors that he wore around the clock for a study on motor deficits in children. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that wristwatch-like motion detectors can help identify in children signs of motor impairments that might otherwise be missed. (Photo: Catherine Hoyt)

A wristwatch-like motion-tracking device can detect movement problems in children whose impairments may be overlooked by doctors and parents, according to a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The findings, published April 26 in JAMA Network Open, could help identify children with subtle motor impairments so they can be treated before the limitations develop into potentially significant and intractable disabilities.


“I had a teenager come into my clinic because he was trying on gloves at a sporting-goods store, and the store owner noticed he was struggling to put his baseball glove on,” said senior author Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology who sees patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “They thought he’d hurt his elbow playing baseball. But it turned out he’d had a massive stroke as an infant that damaged the motor parts of his brain, and no one had ever noticed until the store owner said something. I sent him to therapy, but he had only partial recovery. Perhaps if we’d sent him to therapy when he was a toddler instead of a teenager, it might have made a bigger difference.”

As many as 1 in 1,600 babies suffers a stroke during or around the time of birth. People are more likely to experience a stroke in the first week after birth than during any other single week of life. Such a stroke can cause a child to lose some control over one side of his or her body, but the impairment may not be noticed until years later, when the child struggles with tasks such as getting dressed, carrying bulky objects or opening a door with one hand while holding something in the other.

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