Many people with epilepsy who suffer serious seizures, or drop attacks, are at high risk for head injury. Many children and adults wear protective helmets to reduce the likelihood of an injury during a seizure. Natalie Portman wears one because of her character’s epilepsy in the movie Garden State.
People who wear epilepsy helmets frequently complain about their discomfort and also the embarrassment of wearing one. In the movie, Garden State, Natalie Portman’s character does not tell Zach Braff the true reason she has the helmet, she doesn’t even tell him she has epilepsy, surely due to her character’s fear of being judged for having epilepsy.
In 2005, a dream was realized by Swedish women on a mission to create an “invisible cycling helmet”, also partly because of the fashion stigma of wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle. This helmet was designed as a protective airbag that deploys from a collar worn around the neck during a bicycle crash. This helmet is called the “Hövding” and recently became available for purchase. Below is a video and caption from the website describing how the airbag system works.
The airbag is designed like a hood and made in an ultra-strong nylon fabric that won’t rip when scraped against the ground. Hövding protects nearly all of the head, while leaving the field of vision open.
The inflated airbag covers a much larger area than a traditional cycle helmet and is designed according to current accident statistics. The protection is greatest where it is needed most and the airbag provides extremely soft and gentle shock absorption. The pressure remains constant for several seconds, making it able to withstand multiple head impacts during the same accident. After that the airbag slowly starts to deflate.
It was also recognized that this technology could also be used by people with epilepsy to protect against a sudden fall because of a seizure. The airbag helmet is worn around the neck like a scarf or collar. The collar contains a folded up airbag that inflates in the event of an accident. Sensors within the collar pick up strange or sudden movements. The airbag is shaped like a hood. It surrounds and protects the user’s head.
At the moment, the airbag can only be used once. This would not be of much use to anyone with repeated seizures. However, a reusable product is now a step closer: The Epilepsy Foundation of America has given the developers a cash prize of $25,000. This is part of an award of recognition, called the ‘Epilepsy Innovation Seal of Excellence’ or SEAL.
The SEAL hopes to recognise groundbreaking new products for people with epilepsy. It is hoped that the SEAL will add weight to Hövding’s application for funding. The company has said it needs around $4m (around £2.6m) to develop a reusable airbag helmet.
This technology could be a huge advancement for people with epilepsy, the social stigma of wearing a helmet all of the time has sure caused emotional stress for those who need the protection. Because of it’s large air-filled design, it also may be more effective at reducing g-force trauma than a hard shell helmet or a thin soft shell.
To learn more about the Hövding helmet, please visit their very cool and interactive website.
A portion of this post originally appeared here: http://www.epilepsy.org.uk/news/news/could-airbag-helmets-be-future-63285