Fits like a glove! How to choose the best prosthetic device for children
Updated: Aug 23
We know that choosing the right prosthetic for your child can be a daunting and highly emotional experience for your entire family. Although children with limb differences adapt much faster to prostheses than adults, the options in the UK are rather limited and expensive. So, we came up with some tips to make the whole process a lot easier!
1. Decide the best time to buy a child's prosthesis (if at all)
Before you ask yourself what type of prosthesis best suits your child's needs, ask your child if they would like a device. Listening to their desires and ambitions at this stage will greatly influence when and what to buy, or if you should buy an artificial limb at all.
For example, toddlers with congenital limb differences are less likely to grasp the importance of a prosthesis because they have never relied on a fully-developed arm in everyday life. Also, many children may initially deny the device because they enjoy the feedback transmitted by the skin. But, this doesn't mean they won't crave the functionality of an artificial limb when they are older.
However, the consensus among adults who have grown up with a prosthetic device is that children with limb differences should wear a prosthesis from as young as possible. The general opinion is that parents should invest in child prosthesis despite their offspring's wishes. That is because parental attitude during early childhood will inform toddlers' level of independence in the future.
We believe that reaching a middle ground with your child could ultimately provide the solution to this controversial topic. And if you struggle to get your point across, perhaps an expert can explain that life with a prosthesis is not so bad after all!
2. Consult a prosthetist
In the UK, the NHS offers prosthetic devices free-of-charge to people with congenital limb differences and amputees. Between 55,000-60,000 patients attend one of the 35 specialist rehabilitation centres across the country.
During a consultation, a prosthetist will carefully evaluate your child's situation, including their physical condition, needs, lifestyle, and aspirations. The specialist knows that each limb difference is unique, so they will make recommendations on a case-by-case basis. A device that allows joint movement may not be suitable for below-elbow amputees, but just the right thing for above-elbow limb differences.
"To make the best use of the time during your appointments with your prosthetist, it is a good idea to write down any questions you can think of in advance as you do not want to forget anything. ", advises Limbless Association.
3. Broaden your options beyond the NHS
Before you accept any prosthetic device recommended by the NHS, it is important that you research all your options. Innovations in technology are fast-moving and many prosthetics companies commercialise reliable devices online, independently from the NHS.
Children in the UK can currently choose between cosmetic, body-powered, and myoelectric (bionic) devices, each with their own functional powers. Here, it is essential to balance functionality with aesthetics. Remember that while cosmetic prostheses are more aesthetically pleasing, they may not have any functionality. On the other hand, bionic limbs may look like they are out of a Sci-Fi film, but their complex sensors transmit information to the hand from your muscles.
Additionally, your child's age and size are important decision factors. For example, a bionic hand may be too much for a young child with below-elbow deficiencies due to the weight or robustness of the device. Similarly, a toddler born without a lower leg likely does not need a running blade.
The middle ground can be achieved by 3D-printed, body-controlled prostheses, like the ExpHand. They are ideal for below-elbow limb differences as they effectively combine aesthetics with practicality. They are also suitable for children aged between 3 to 10 years old, being easy to handle and adjust as the little one grows.
4. Consider the cost
Most prosthetic devices are designed for adults and don't factor in the developmental needs of children. In the UK, 70% of people are unable to afford existing prostheses, yet 90% wish to provide one for their children.
What's more, a study by the University of Illinois found that children aged 5 or younger require a new prosthetic device annually. Youngsters between 5 and 12 years old change their prosthesis once every two years, on average.
Not only are there great financial implications for parents, but children with limb differences need to start accommodating to a new device as soon as they outgrow the old one. To extend the life span of a prosthesis, most children receive a device that is slightly too big for them so that they can grow into it with time.
The ExpHand is the only device with a life span of up to 7 years, which costs a fraction of the price of mainstream prostheses currently available. Thanks to its modular construction, the ExpHand adjusts in both length and width to suit children's developmental needs.
5. What is the prosthesis used for?
Last but not least, don't forget to ask 'what role does this prosthesis serve?'.
Is it for appearance, to facilitate physical participation in a sport, do school homework, or play?
Prosthetic devices are unique to the owner, meaning that they can be designed for almost any purpose, from daily chores to performance sport. The higher the activity level, the more complex in nature they will be.
While a prosthetist can make recommendations, no one ultimately knows what's better for your child than you and your family. So, choosing the best prosthetic device for children can be as simple as asking the following questions:
- How does my child feel about wearing a prosthesis?
- What is on offer beyond the NHS service?
- What is the price I can afford to pay for prostheses in the long-term?
- What type of artificial limb can best meet the lifestyle needs of my child?