New device helps manage ‘freezing of gait’ in Parkinson’s patients

21 Dec 2017


A team from NUI Galway has built a device that helps those with Parkinson’s to manage one of the disease’s most debilitating symptoms.

Some major strides towards the treatment and possible cure for Parkinson’s have been made in recent years, such as a collagen implant that helps to support transplanted healthy cells in the brain.

But, in the short-term, those living with the central nervous system disorder may receive a helpful solution with a new device developed by a team of researchers at NUI Galway’s Cúram medical device research centre.

The device, called ‘cueStim’, is designed to help those living with the disease to overcome ‘freezing of gait’ (FOG), a feeling whereby 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.

Worn across the waist, the device electrically stimulates a change in the body capable of triggering an exit from FOG or to prevent an event occurring.

The cueStim is controllable through Bluetooth via a smartphone and will allow a person to get moving again.

The project’s co-principal investigator, Dr Leo Quinlan, said of the breakthrough: “The severity of FOG depends on the stage of the disease, and it can have a very severe impact on quality of life, affecting people with Parkinson’s’ ability to walk for extended periods of time, and is a common cause of falls in Parkinson’s disease.”


The cueStim device is controlled via a smartphone. Image: NUI Galway

Part of EU research project

This first-generation device resulted from NUI Galway’s involvement in the €4.7m European FP7 project Rempark and through Cúram’s Human Movement Laboratory.

The latter is currently working to further enhance the technology, particularly in the area of usability and human factors through the EscapeFOG project by working with Parkinson’s patients at the Clare Parkinson’s Support Group.

The group’s public relations officer, TJ Waters, said of the undertaking: “The opportunity to view first-hand the research being undertaken to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s was an experience not to be missed.

“Clare Parkinson’s Support Group members are delighted to have an active role in this exciting project, which will be of benefit ultimately to people with Parkinson’s throughout the world.”

The Cúram group has called on anyone looking to participate in future studies to contact the system’s lead designer, Dean Sweeney, via email.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic