A method for quantifying upper limb performance in daily life using accelerometers

Catherine E. Lang, Kimberly J. Waddell, Joseph W. Klaesner, Marghuretta D. Bland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


A key reason for referral to rehabilitation services after stroke and other neurological conditions is to improve one's ability to function in daily life. It has become important to measure a person's activities in daily life, and not just measure their capacity for activity in the structured environment of a clinic or laboratory. A wearable sensor that is now enabling measurement of daily movement is the accelerometer. Accelerometers are commercially-available devices resembling large wrist watches that can be worn throughout the day. Data from accelerometers can quantify how the limbs are engaged to perform activities in peoples' homes and communities. This report describes a methodology to collect accelerometry data and turn it into clinically-relevant information. First, data are collected by having the participant wear two accelerometers (one on each wrist) for 24 h or longer. The accelerometry data are then downloaded and processed to produce four different variables that describe key aspects of upper limb activity in daily life: hours of use, use ratio, magnitude ratio, and the bilateral magnitude. Density plots can be constructed that visually represent the data from the 24 h wearing period. The variables and their resultant density plots are highly consistent in neurologically-intact, community-dwelling adults. This striking consistency makes them a useful tool for determining if upper limb daily performance is different from normal. This methodology is appropriate for research studies investigating upper limb dysfunction and interventions designed to improve upper limb performance in daily life in people with stroke and other patient populations. Because of its relative simplicity, it may not be long before it is also incorporated in clinical neurorehabilitation practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere55673
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number122
StatePublished - Apr 21 2017


  • Accelerometry
  • Activities of daily living
  • Arm
  • Hand
  • Human movement
  • Issue 122
  • Measurement
  • Medicine
  • Outcomes
  • Rehabilitation
  • Wearable sensors


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