Each year, more than 51,640 people in the UK lose the ability to smile, speak, eat or close their eyes, due to Facial Palsy. The condition - caused by conditions such as Bell's Palsy and Stroke - can be devastating. Treatment is expensive too.
But thanks to one of our research teams, new low-cost therapy technologies are now in development. Not only can they improve the recovery of facial palsy patients, they could save the NHS millions too.
The new system combines Mirror Therapy, a well-known part of amputee rehabilitation, with pioneering 4D facial sensing technology, and is the result of a collaboration between facial palsy consultant Mr Charles Nduka, the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, leading industry partners, and Dr Hui Yu, our Reader in Visual Computing.
The treatment involves a patient seeing a modified reflection of their own face. Thanks to 4D facial sensing technology, the stronger muscles from the other side of their face replace those weakened by Facial Palsy.
This mirroring creates a reflective illusion and, as the patient moves their face, the brain interprets it as pain-free movement. The 4D facial sensing technology gives patients feedback on the progress of their therapy and is even suitable for use at home.
Following facial nerve injury there is frequently a loss of coordination of facial expressions...seeing themselves as they practice facial movements is easier for patients emotionally. It improves the mentality of the patient and this makes it very effective in recovery
'Following facial nerve injury there is frequently a loss of coordination of facial expressions. But emotional wellbeing is hugely affected as well; patients do not like how they look. They may not want to be seen in public.'
'So seeing themselves as they practice facial movements is easier for them emotionally. It improves the mentality of the patient and this makes it very effective in recovery.'
The potential savings to the NHS are significant. For therapy alone, the annual costs to the health service could be as high as £2,543,360. If patients receive Botulinum Toxin injections too - an often painful treatment to control muscle imbalance and facial asymmetry - costs could spiral to £7,948,000.
Our team's new technology could reduce these costs, and help more patients to receive gold-standard treatment too. The development of refined 4D geometric model capture for facial therapy also opens up dozens of new research avenues.
But most of all, Professor Yu’s research offers more patients greater hope that with time and treatment, they can smile again.