Wearable device may reduce mobility issues for people with Parkinson’s Disease

A wearable electronic device may reduce mobility issues for people with Parkinson’s disease, according to new research.

A clinical study carried out by engineers and scientists at NUI Galway in collaboration with clinical professionals from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC ), produced the promising results.

The research found that “fixed” rhythmic sensory electrical stimulation (sES ) designed to prevent Freezing of Gait (movement abnormality ), significantly reduced the time taken for a person with Parkinson’s disease to complete a walking task and the number of Freezing of Gait episodes which occurred, helping them to walk more effectively.

The study involved a group of people with the condition testing the effectiveness of the sES electronic device’s ability to help them manage this debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering.

Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin and the research team from the Human Movement Laboratory in CÚRAM at NUI Galway are researching the development of a suite of unobtrusive, wearable electronic devices to help manage this debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease.

As part of this work, the project team has developed a novel electronic device which is worn around the waist, called “cueStim”. It is designed to prevent or relieve Freezing of Gait, which is commonly described by people with Parkinson’s, as a feeling of their feet being stuck or glued to the floor preventing them from moving forward.

The condition gained prominence recently when comedian Billy Connolly spoke of his fear of being unable to move freely on stage in his documentary Made in Scotland.

He said: “I didn’t know how standing there would feel...I discovered that I got kinda rooted to the spot and became afraid to move. Instead of going away to the front of the stage and prowling along the front the way I used to do I stood where I was.”

NUI Galway co-investigator, Dr Leo Quinlan, a principle investigator in human physiology, described the results as very encouraging. “They show that cueStim reduced Freezing of Gait episodes and the time to complete a walking task in an independent clinical assessment with a pilot home-based study carried out by NHSGGC.”

Professor Ó Laighin stated that the university is seeking additional clinical partners, through a funded programme of research, to undertake a comprehensive long-term clinical evaluation of how cueStim enhances the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease.

The clinical study was designed by Dr Anne-Louise Cunnington, a consultant geriatrician and Lois Rosenthal, a movement disorder specialist and highly specialised physiotherapist, both from NHS GGC.

Ms Rosenthal said that the Freezing of Gait is one of the most frustrating and difficult symptoms for patients to suffer and specialists to treat.

“This common feature of Parkinson’s is not improved by Parkinson’s medications, and is inconsistently responsive to cueing techniques trialled by physiotherapists. This collaboration between NUI Galway and NHSGGC explored a novel intervention and results were very encouraging. We now need a larger scale study to further evaluate effectiveness and real-life practicality.

“The cueStim system was developed by Dean Sweeney as part of his PhD studies in the Discipline of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway. The results provide evidence that sensory electrical stimulation cueing delivered in a ‘fixed’ rhythmic manner has the potential to be an effective cueing mechanism for Freezing of Gait prevention.

The study was jointly funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Framework 7 programme of the European Commission and was carried out in collaboration with Stobhill Hospital and Glasgow Royal Infirmary within NHSGGC.

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