Staying mobile and independent is a crucial goal for people with Parkinson’s disease, especially when their symptoms take hold.
A promising solution is the use of a new device and researchers have just received funding to develop it.
Among the challenges for people like David Pix and Howard Lilley, who both have Parkinson’s disease, are managing tremors and walking without the fear of falling.
“Anywhere you walk, every step you take, you’ve got to be careful,” Lilley told 9News.
In Parkinson’s, the gradual loss of dopamine in the brain is like losing engine oil in a car.
Patients can suddenly freeze, with big steps reduced to a shuffle.
“It’s stopped me from walking pretty well.” Pix told 9News.
Physiotherapist Anne Falk from Lady Davidson Private Hospital in Sydney said they have ways to help but it can be hard.
“We have strategies, where the patients have to think and focus and concentrate to overcome the symptoms. That’s exhausting for the patient.” Falk said.
This newer strategy is designed to overcome that.
Devices that strap onto the arms and ankles, emit vibrations via a microchip inside the bands – each pulse helps them to time each step.
Trying the device for the first time, their steps are more pronounced and the turns are easier to do.
Lilley said he felt “a lot more confident” taking steps with the device, while Pix said it “felt really good.”
“Because it buzzed when my muscles would normally freeze up. It buzzed and I just paid attention to that,” he said.
UNSW biomedical engineers and partner groups have been awarded $1 million from the Federal Government to further develop the technology.
The device is just a prototype but the next steps are to improve the aesthetics and make it more powerful so this can be turned into a medical device.
“The device can react in real time and provide the optimum stimulation. It’s a pacemaker for their gait,” Professor Matthew Brodie said.
“We hope within three years to have a registered medical device available to people.”
Falk said there are multiple benefits.
“It will reduce the risk of falls, it will help them keep pace with their family and friends when they’re out walking.” she said.