Device to treat ‘freezing of gait’ in Parkinson’s patients shows great promise

23 Jan 2019572 Views

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Image: © Andrey Popov/Stock.adobe.com

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An Irish device that helps those with Parkinson’s overcome one of its most common symptoms has shown great success in a clinical trial.

In 2017, researchers from NUI Galway revealed a new device called ‘cueStim’, designed to help those living with the disease to overcome ‘freezing of gait’ (FOG), a feeling that their feet are stuck or glued to the floor, preventing them from moving forward. FOG can often be triggered by cognitive factors such as distraction or anxiety, or while passing through doorways or tight spaces.

However, before the device can be manufactured and used by the world at large, the researchers – in collaboration with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) hospital in Scotland – needed to conduct a clinical study.

Now, publishing their findings in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering, the researchers have reported promising results for cueStim’s ability to give those with Parkinson’s greater control over their movement.

The research found that ‘fixed’ rhythmic sensory electrical stimulation (sES) designed to prevent FOG significantly reduced the time taken for a person with Parkinson’s disease to complete a walking task, and the number of episodes.

The white and green, rectangular cueStim device lying flat on a white surface.

The cueStim device. Image: NUI Galway

Not improved by medications

Worn across the waist, cueStim electrically stimulates a change in the body, capable of triggering an exit from FOG or preventing an event occurring. The device is controllable through Bluetooth via a smartphone and will allow a person to get moving again.

Speaking of the findings, Prof Gearóid Ó Laighin of the Human Movement Laboratory in Cúram at NUI Galway said: “We are now seeking additional clinical partners to work with NUI Galway in carrying out a comprehensive, long-term clinical evaluation of cueStim in enhancing the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease through a funded programme of research.”

Lois Rosenthal of NHSGGC, who helped design the latest study, said the device could overcome issues seen with pharmaceuticals. “This common feature of Parkinson’s is not improved by Parkinson’s medications, and is inconsistently responsive to cueing techniques trialled by physiotherapists,” she said.

“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.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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