Microprocessors and lighter materials, like carbon fiber, are revolutionizing artificial limbs, called prostheses, by making them easier to use and move. This means a higher quality of life for many amputees and allows some of them to be more active and even compete in sports.
A device called the myeloelectric hand uses computer technology to allow the brain to send the hand a signal to grasp. Vacuum technology makes it possible to attach a prosthesis to the body with a more secure and durable suction-like method.
Some of the most exciting new developments in implants have to do with the heart. Ventricular assist systems, which transport blood from the heart to the rest of the body when the heart is too weak to do so, can help some patients with end-stage heart failure survive until suitable donor matches for heart transplants are found.
Defibrillators, which increasingly are found in public places, deliver an electric shock to the heart to treat a dangerously irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. New implantable defibrillator systems are surgically placed in the chest near the armpit.
Some of the earliest implants, such as hip and knee replacements, offered solutions for bone- or joint-related problems. Now orthopedic implants are stronger and longer lasting than ever. An implanted cervical disc, made of metal and plastic, can replace a diseased disc, relieving pain or weakness in the arm.
Ankle replacements are becoming increasingly common for arthritis sufferers. And electronic implants can be used to stimulate muscles in patients with movement problems.
New implant technologies
A recently approved implant is designed to treat persistent gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a type of heartburn. The device, basically a ring of tiny titanium beads, is implanted around the lower end of the esophagus. This improves GERD symptoms by preventing the contents of the stomach from backing up into the esophagus.
Implants called deep brain stimulators are used to treat movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease, and research is moving quickly to employ them to help patients with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, severe depression and other neurological disorders.
The future looks promising for implant and artificial limb technology, offering new ways to heal and restore health and well-being.