We are developing solutions to assist Parkinson’s Disease (PD) patients overcome disabling walking symptoms that prevent them from an active and confident lifestyle. The project started when John Kauer, a Professor of Neuroscience from Tufts University, noticed an acquaintance with PD who froze trying to leave a concert and whose spouse positioned her foot in front of him as a cue to step over. This incident led John to develop a handheld laser line projector that was instantly effective in helping the patient both walk with confidence and overcome his “Freezing of Gait” episodes. A subsequent dinner conversation with Dave Newbold, a retired IBM engineer, led to a collaboration to create a ‘smart cueing’ solution that would work automatically for patients.
Both John and Dave watched as family members and friends with PD develop walking difficulties. In addition to hand tremors, gait difficulties, including shuffling, imbalance, festination (involuntary quickening) and freezing, are the most common symptoms of PD and are not managed by dopamine-replacement therapies. Research has shown that physical therapy can improve gait speed, balance and confidence by repetitive training but the effect often wears off within weeks.
The good news is that many PD patients, therapists and clinicians understand the value of staying active and engaging in varied physical activities. Research shows increased activity delays disease progression and improves emotional outlook. Many patients join exercise classes, others take up yoga, boxing or ballroom dancing.
Various PD smartphone apps and cueing devices are available today to help patients track symptoms and cue their gait, however the efficacy of these aids, especially in day-to-day use, hasn’t been well studied. As a result, few PD patients and most neurologists are unsure of their value. StartGait is developing a comprehensive solution to study the impact of activity, give PD patients the insight on their disease progression and provide smart audio and visual cueing when needed. We believe that early intervention will provide the most sustained benefit to patients as they initially utilize activity tracking and analysis and then require subtle and eventually more active cues.
As needed, the solution will provide cueing when walking abnormalities are detected, first through varied audio cadence beat tempos and then with laser line cueing if the patient experiences freezing. All along, the patient can monitor their activity and if desired, share it with their caregivers, social media communities and doctors. Our patient and caregiver research has demonstrated a willingness to share this information to lower caregiver anxiety and to provide doctors with a more comprehensive and more frequent understanding of their patient’s symptoms and challenges.
We are currently developing solution prototypes, collecting PD patient’s gait data (in cooperation with Tufts University's School of Medicine) and listening to the PD community (providers, patient advocates, researchers, etc.) to make a beneficial and commercially viable contribution.