A new smartphone app that measures a person’s walk in “real-time” may prevent dangerous freezing of gait in Parkinson’s patients, scientists say.
Many patients in the later stage of Parkinson’s disease are at high risk of dangerous, sometimes fatal, falls.
One major reason is the disabling symptom referred to as Freezing of Gait (FoG) – brief episodes of an inability to step forward that typically occurs during gait initiation or when turning while walking.
Patients who experience FoG often lose their independence, which has a direct effect on their already degenerating quality of life.
The project CuPID, a product of an eight-member European Union-funded consortium including researchers at Tel Aviv University, strives to provide personalised rehabilitation for patients with Parkinson’s disease who experience FoG or other gait disturbances.
CuPID is a home-based, personalised rehabilitation tool in the form of a smartphone app that harnesses wearable sensors, audio biofeedback, and external cueing to provide intense motivational training tailored to each patient.
The results are monitored remotely by medical professionals, who provide quality care while enhancing patient compliance.
The CuPID app just completed its pilot run and is being fine-tuned for more widespread use. It utilises small sensors placed on a patients’ shoes that measure a person’s gait in “real-time.”
If certain deviations from a pre-set norm emerge, an audio message alerts the patient to change his or her walking pattern immediately to avoid a dangerous situation.
“FoG is a leading cause of disability in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said professor Jeffrey Hausdorff of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Center for Movement, Cognition, and Mobility at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (TASMC).
“It often occurs during ‘walking transitions’ associated with turning, starting, stopping, and moving in open spaces. It can also occur when people approach narrow spaces, such as doors or elevators, and in crowded places.
“Recognising such situations is a very powerful key for prevention – and this is one of the features of this programme,” Hausdorff said.
Hausdorff and his team at Tel Aviv Medical Center conducted a pilot study on 40 subjects: 20 patients with Parkinson’s disease who used the CuPid app and 20 patients who carried out conventional exercises and did not use the app.
The results were promising and the investigators are currently exploring the possibility of a larger follow-up study to further demonstrate the app’s efficacy.