Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects more than 10 million people worldwide. The disease symptoms appear when the brain produces abnormally low levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for movement.
Freezing of gait is one of the most disturbing symptoms in Parkinson’s disease during which a patient suddenly becomes stuck in one position and is unable to step forward. It can happen when a patient starts walking or when he is turning around or passing through confined spaces, such as doorways. It can be dangerous as it may lead to falls resulting in serious injuries.
Recently, a new walking stick called Smart Walking Stick has been developed for Parkinson’s patients. It looks like a conventional walking stick but has been designed to overcome patient freezing episodes and help them resume walking.
Who can use it?
Smart walking stick is primarily designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. It helps them to come out of their freezing episode and continue walking. The device may also benefit those suffering from gait problems due to other neurological conditions, such as ataxia or stroke. However, there is no evidence, at the moment, of its success in patients with those conditions.
Who designed it?
Smart walking stick was developed by Neha Chaudhry, a Pakistani born graduate student from the University of the West of England and the founder of a start-up company Walk to Beat.
Her idea was inspired after witnessing her late grandfather who used to freeze frequently while walking due to Parkinson’s disease. According to Neha, his condition was getting worse and there was no mobility aid at that time that could help him.
This led her to think of designing a device that could allow other Parkinson’s patients to overcome their freezing episodes and walk again without falling.
It was during her final year of her master studies at the University of the West of England when she got the opportunity to work on her idea of designing a walking stick for Parkinson’s patients. After working tirelessly for several months and with the support of Bristol Robotics Lab, Neha developed an early model of the stick in 2014. Its tremendous potential has been recognized and Neha has received many awards including the Entrepreneurship Award at the European Robotic Forum 2017, the Future Spark Award at TechSpark 2017, and the Medilink South West Healthcare Innovation Award, 2019.
The stick has already been successfully tested on several Parkinson’s patients. According to Walk to Beat, the smart walking stick will be soon available for purchase on a trial offer of £159, in the UK only.
How does it work?
Smart Walking Stick is a smart device that detects freezing. It does this because the handle of the stick is packed with sensors that activate when a patient’s legs stop moving (when they are “frozen”). When the sensors detect this freezing episode, they trigger the handle to vibrate, which the patient feels. The vibration cues the patient to take a step forward and resume walking. Once the patient has resumed walking, the vibration stops.
So basically, the stick works by acting as a cue to the brain to keep moving.
Although Smart walking stick doesn’t cure freezing, it could be very valuable for people with Parkinson’s disease. The stick allows the patient to walk again without the fear of falling.
Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.