Ingenious chair: new-found freedom for disabled children | Action Medical Research

Ingenious chair: new-found freedom for disabled children

8 January 2013

An ingenious chair for disabled children who have frequent spasms could be available for use within the next few years. Funding from children’s charity Action Medical Research has supported researchers working on its development.

The unique chair moves with children during spasms. It gives these disabled children relief from discomfort and, for the first time in their lives, the confidence they need to sit independently — bringing new-found freedom both to the children and to their parents or carers, who would normally sit them on their laps. [see case study below]

The team of researchers at the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering is seeking funding to begin manufacture of the chair, as well as further research into its potential benefits. Action Medical Research awarded a grant in 2008 for the three year research project.* Trials have shown severely disabled children using the chair were able to adjust their posture without going into a spasm, and use body movements to help them communicate.

“Some of our most severely disabled children, with conditions such as dystonic cerebral palsy, suffer frequent, frightening and painful muscle spasms that cause their whole body – arms and legs included – to straighten out suddenly and become totally rigid,” says Professor Roger Orpwood, lead researcher. Children can suffer several of these spasms every hour.

Sitting in a standard, rigid chair is normally extremely uncomfortable – scary even – for these children and can exacerbate spasms. Many of the children therefore spend much of their time sitting on someone’s lap, where they feel safer and more comfortable.

The researchers have evolved a new kind of design technique that has allowed them to develop the ground-breaking chair. “These unique chairs move with children during spasms, keeping the children’s upper body almost upright and allowing their hips and knees to extend. The children are returned to their resting position as they relax,” Professor Orpwood describes.

The researchers plan further studies to gather more evidence on how the chairs affect children’s lives.

Further information on the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering:

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Case study: Tito’s story
Tito, one of triplets, was born 10 September 2004. He and his brothers were born premature at just 29 weeks.

“At six months, Tito was still very strong – trying to sit and crawl, like his brothers. Then his body started to get weak,” his mum Adelina says.

When Tito was two years old he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy – a condition affecting control of movement caused by damage to the brain during pregnancy or around the time of birth. He lacks the ability to coordinate muscle movement and even something as simple as sitting is a challenge. He suffers from frequent whole body muscle spasms.

“As a baby he could not use a bed or a chair like his brothers. For the first two and a half years of his life I carried him in a sling. I was scared for him when he would have a spasm,” says Adelina.

Aged three, Tito started at The Richard Cloudesley School in 2006 and has been involved in trying out an ingenious chair for disabled children. The chair, designed and built by a team of researchers at the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, moves during the spasms of the child seated in it.

The chair helps maintain a consistent eye level, so Tito is able to focus better and maintain concentration on what is being taught in class. It also allows functional movement of the arms and hands, so he can get involved in tactile play and learning. In a normal, rigid chair, the arms are flung backwards. In the chair, movement is more fluid.

“The first time Tito sat in the chair he started to kick excitedly, like he was walking! He is able to express himself so much more in the chair and he is happier because of it. He is free!” says his mum.

Adelina thinks the newly designed chair, made possible by funding from Action Medical Research, is just brilliant. “If Tito is happy then I’m happy too! And I hope that many more children with disabilities are able to benefit from the chair.”

High res pictures of Tito, the chair and Adelina can be downloaded here:


* Funded by a generous grant from The Henry Smith Charity
** Estimates put numbers of people affected by dystonic cerebral palsy at 15 per cent of all cases of cerebral palsy, which affects one in every 400 children.

For further information please contact:

Toni Slater, Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478

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Action Medical Research is the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more.

Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:

• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.

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