Parkinson’s fall prevention trial seeks volunteers

Smart socks and mobile technology used in new Parkinson's falls program


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BALANCING ACT: A new program uses a floor mat, iPad, mobile phone app and sensory socks to improve gait and prevent falls in people with Parkinson's disease.

BALANCING ACT: A new program uses a floor mat, iPad, mobile phone app and sensory socks to improve gait and prevent falls in people with Parkinson's disease.

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NeuRA scientists use smart socks to prevent falls in people with Parkinson's disease.

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A RESEARCH program that uses iPads, a mobile phone app and smart socks to help prevent falls in people with Parkinson’s disease is looking for volunteer participants.

The neuro-rehabilitation program, known as Standing Tall-PD uses visual, audio and haptic (touch and positional awareness) cues to help rewire the parts of the brain that control walking in people with Parkinson’s. The program aims to prevent freezing-of-gait and falls, and enhance independence.

A team of researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and the University of NSW has received a grant from the Michael J Fox Foundation and the Shake It Up Australia Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to test eHealth and smart garment technology for falls prevention.

NeuRA’s Dr Matthew Brodie and Associate Professor Kim Delbaere, who lead the study, are working with industry partner Sensoria Health.

Research participants will be given a NeuRA training mat with colour-coded stepping targets, a pair of Sensoria Smart Socks, an iPad and phone.

The program is practised daily and involves participants stepping on coloured targets that match a series of colours displayed on their iPad. At the same time they listen to rhythmic auditory cues like music and a metronome beat that are synchronised with the vibrating smart socks.

The combination of visual, audio and sensory elements helps to form new connections in less-affected parts of the brain leading to improved walking ability.

Participants can self-manage and monitor their own progress via an app on their phone. The app can also trigger stimuli during everyday activities, such as vibration in their smart socks if they are in danger of experiencing freezing-of-gait, falls or if they show signs of shuffling feet.

Participants can also be remotely monitored and their program adjusted if necessary.

Falls are a common and often devastating event in the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. They are frequently caused by gait impairments, postural instability and freezing-of-gait (a brief absence of forward momentum of the feet despite the intention to walk).

“People with Parkinson’s disease have substantial barriers to maintaining their independence,” Dr Brodie said.

“Our program has individually tailored tools to empower all people with Parkinson’s to manage their symptoms, increase capacity to remain independent and enjoy the highest possible quality of life.”

Michael J Fox Foundation associate director Jamie L Hamilton said existing dopamine therapies offer benefit in treating motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s but may not alleviate gait and balance challenges.

“This project has the potential to become an affordable option to address gait and balance issues and improve overall quality-of-life for people with Parkinson’s.”

Professor Delbaere said the uptake of mobile technology made the user-friendly product suitable for widespread community application.

STANDING TALL: Associate Professor Kim Delbaere and Dr Matthew Brodie have designed a smart-technology program to help prevent falls in people with Parkinson's disease.

STANDING TALL: Associate Professor Kim Delbaere and Dr Matthew Brodie have designed a smart-technology program to help prevent falls in people with Parkinson's disease.

The program is conducted in the home but participants will need to be able to attend NeuRA in Sydney for assessment and training.

To find out how you can be part of this study, email standingtall-pd@neura.edu.au 

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