05 Jun Innovative mobility device helps people with Parkinson’s
“I was on a platform in London and I couldn’t get off the bench, couldn’t get on the train, couldn’t get out of the station. I just had to wait,” said Mel, now comfortably sitting in a big armchair, first looking into the wall, then establishing firm eye contact. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago. “I am struggling to connect with my body, to make it do what I want it to do.”
What Mel described was a freezing episode. About half of the people diagnosed with Parkinson’s can’t get going in narrow places. Things as common as doorways or corridors stop them from walking. These involuntary freezing episodes can be described as feeling stuck to the ground.
Mobility and gait problems
So, what are these freezing episodes which make people feel like their feet are frozen or glued to the floor? The medical term is freezing of gait (FoG), most often associated with Parkinson’s since it commonly occurs in people diagnosed with the disease.
Freezing of gait is known to decrease the quality of life because it often results in falls and injuries. Many people attempt to prevent injuries by staying at home and isolating themselves. However, this solution can negatively affect their mental health and worsen Parkinson’s symptoms.
Along with freezing of gait, some people experience difficulty initiating walking, shuffling or slow gait. “I tend to take lots of little strides and almost fall on my nose,” explains Mel. She filmed herself walking. First, the video shows her unsteady and slow gait. But later she walks more swiftly and confidently like it’s not the same person who got stuck on a platform in London. She takes longer strides and her feet step over a bright green line.
Follow the cue
The green line Mel follows is a visual cue. Cues are external signals which help people with Parkinson’s initiate or continue the movement. External cues are usually categorised into three categories; visual cues, auditory cues and haptic cues.
Visual cues using lasers – like the ones Mel uses in everyday life – can be implemented in various mobility aids such as canes and walkers for people with Parkinson’s who struggle to walk. In 2014 Walk With Path invented a hands-free laser device called the Path Finder LaserShoes. The device is an attachment to a shoe projecting laser lines in front of the user’s feet.
Advanced technology changing lives
Path Finder uses step-synchronised cueing which is based on activating the projection of lasers automatically as the user walks. It frees the person from additional tasks like switching on the lasers and carrying mobility aid. Such multi-tasking is yet another obstacle the user has to overcome and makes it more difficult to initiate walking.
“When I have Path Finder on I’ve got something to concentrate on. It makes my steps longer and I stand up straighter. Everything starts to flow better. It makes me feel that I’ve got some back-up,” describes Mel who uses Path Finder on a daily basis.
Path Finder LaserShoes placed Walk With Path in the semi-finals with other innovative projects at the MAPFRE Awards in 2019.
“Many people don’t even think about walking. It is a rather natural and automatised movement. Yet putting one foot in front of the other is not so easy for everyone,” says Lise Pape, the founder of Walk With Path. She was inspired to develop this mobility device as her own father has Parkinson’s and she saw his struggle walking.
A new era of mobility aids can change the lives of people in many ways. Boosting their independence, preventing falls and therefore keeping them safe. Lise Pape is now working on her second mobile application for people with disabilities: Path Feel, an insole for people with diabetes who can’t feel their feet.
“Bringing Path Finder LaserShoes to the market was a key achievement, and it feels incredibly rewarding to hear from our users how it is changing their daily lives for the better. Innovative devices can not only give people confidence and independence, but it can also save the health care system a lot of costs from injuries related to falls. And now with the pandemic, it is even more important to make people at risk feel safe in their houses,” says Lise.
Lise is now working with her team of engineers on developing her second mobility device Path Feel which will help people with diabetes who suffer from peripheral neuropathy. Walk With Path is launching Path Feel in 2021.
Walk With Path bio:
Walk With Path is a MedTech company developing solutions to irregular gait in chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. The main goal is to improve mobility through injury prevention and user-centred design creating social impact in our society, improving the lives of users and giving them independence and confidence walking. In 2019 Walk With Path was a semifinalist for the MAPFRE Awards for Social Innovation and have since been a member of Red Innova.
About the author:
Written by Monika Tibenska, Communications Intern at Walk With Path. Monika Tibenska has a bachelor degree in Journalism and a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies. She is fluent in English, Czech and Slovak and has lived in Slovak, Belgium, Denmark and Portugal. After completing her degree she has worked as a contributing editor and reporter.