A team of researchers from William and Mary University and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) are trying to use wearable devices to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. The researchers are specifically trying to address freezing of gait (FoG), a term that describes a motor symptom in which someone with Parkinson’s briefly loses the ability to move mid-step.
FoG is often a response to some kind of environmental or emotional trigger, though the nature of that trigger can differ from person to person. Sometimes it can set in when someone starts to walk or changes directions, or when entering a tight space like an elevator. The condition is highly inconvenient regardless of the cause, and can even be dangerous if the person falls or otherwise finds themselves in a precarious situation.
With that in mind, the researchers are trying to use AI and wearables to get people moving. The project began with a Protokinetics Zeno Walkway mat, which is used to measure someone’s gait. One of the researchers measured his gait with the mat, and then did so again with an UltiGesture wearable band that comes equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes. Comparing the results revealed that the band was able to track someone’s gait with a level of accuracy that rivaled the dedicated mat, and did so at a fraction of the cost (the band is $10, while the mat is $50,000).
Since the UltiGesture is so affordable, the researchers believe that it can make gait tracking much more accessible to the general public. It could also serve as the foundation of an FoG treatment system. In that regard, the band can be used to create a baseline gait profile. Any unexpected deviation from that profile could be an indicator of an FoG event.
The band could then be paired with a VibeForward device worn on the ankle. The VibeForward would vibrate whenever the UltiGesture notices the wearer has frozen, and the vibration would stimulate the muscles to unfreeze the patient and restore motor function.
The UltiGesture band is designed to be used with a smartphone app, and can transmit data to a smartphone through a Bluetooth connection. That app uses AI to analyze gait data and spot abnormalities. The finished system would be sensitive enough to distinguish an involuntary FoG event from an intentional stop, and could even take environmental data into consideration to spot potential triggers in advance.
“Freezing of Gait can be very isolating socially,” said VCU School of Nursing associate professor and senior researcher Ingrid Pretzer-Aboff. “We’re hoping that using vibration in this new way will show better results and give people some hope, a little more autonomy, freedom and a better quality of life.”
Researchers at Okayama University have used facial recognition tech to study the effect that Parkinson’s can have on the muscles in a person’s face. Wearables, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly common in medical research, and have been used throughout the pandemic to further the medical community’s understanding of COVID-19.
Source: Parkinson’s News Today
November 24, 2021 – by Eric Weiss