We are developing a solution 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 very 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 engineer, led to a collaboration to create a ‘smart cueing’ solution that would work automatically for patients.
Both John and Dave have watched as family members and friends with PD develop walking difficulties. In addition to hand tremors, walking (Gait) difficulties, including shuffling, imbalance, festination (involuntary quickening) and freezing, are the most common symptoms of PD and are not managed by dopamine-replacement therapy. Research has shown that physical therapy can improve gait speed, balance and confidence by repetitive training but the effect often wears off within weeks. Without constant caretaker support PD patients eventually get dispirited and reduce their activity, which accelerates disease progression.
The good news is that many PD patients and clinicians understand the value of staying active and engaging in varied physical activities as a PD patient. Research clearly shows increased activity delays disease progression and improves emotional outlook. Many patients join online communities to encourage activity, others take up yoga, boxing or ballroom dancing.
In developing a solution to help PD patients, we want to start early in the disease progression by logging activity and connecting to caregivers and fellow patients to encourage mobility. 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 via wearable gait activity loggers (in cooperation with Tuft University's School of Medicine) and listening to the PD community (providers, patient advocates, researchers, etc.) to make a beneficial and commercially viable contribution.