A wearable electronic device, called ‘cueStim’, designed by researchers at NUI Galway to prevent or relieve Freezing of Gait, a movement abnormality associated with Parkinson’s disease. Photo: NUI Galway
Jan 23 2019 Posted: 09:52 GMT

Study Finds Wearable Electronic Device May Reduce Mobility Issues in Parkinson’s Disease

Wednesday, 23 January, 2018: Engineers and scientists at NUI Galway in collaboration with clinical professionals from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) have carried out a clinical study which has produced promising results for people with Parkinson’s disease with mobility issues.

The research found that ‘fixed’ rhythmic sensory electrical stimulation (sES) designed to prevent Freezing of Gait (movement abnormality), significantly reduced the time taken for a person with Parkinson’s disease to complete a walking task and the number of ‘Freezing of Gait’ episodes which occurred, helping them to walk more effectively. The study involved a group of people with Parkinson’s testing how effective the sES electronic device was in helping them to manage this debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering.

Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin and the research team from the Human Movement Laboratory in CÚRAM at NUI Galway have a programme of research developing a suite of unobtrusive, wearable electronic devices to help manage this debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease. As part of this work, the project team have developed a novel wearable electronic device worn around the waist, called ‘cueStim’, designed to prevent or relieve Freezing of Gait, commonly described by people with Parkinson’s, as a feeling as if their feet are stuck or glued to the floor preventing them from moving forward.

The condition gained prominence recently when Billy Connolly spoke of his fear of being unable to move freely on stage in his documentary Made in Scotland.

Speaking candidly about the abnormality, the much loved comedian said: “I didn’t know how standing there would feel...I discovered that I got kinda rooted to the spot and became afraid to move. Instead of going away to the front of the stage and prowling along the front the way I used to do I stood where I was.”

NUI Galway Co-investigator, Dr. Leo Quinlan, from Physiology in the School of Medicine at NUI Galway, said: “These results are very encouraging as they show that cueStim reduced Freezing of Gait episodes and the time to complete a walking task in an independent clinical assessment with a pilot home-based study carried out by NHSGGC.”

Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin, said: “We are now seeking additional clinical partners to work with NUI Galway in carrying out a comprehensive long-term clinical evaluation of cueStim in enhancing the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease through a funded programme of research.”

The clinical study was designed by Dr Anne-Louise Cunnington, Consultant Geriatrician and Ms Lois Rosenthal, Movement Disorder Specialist and Highly Specialised Physiotherapist, both from NHSGGC, and involved the participants completing a home based self-identified walking 

Ms Lois Rosenthal, NHSGGC, said: “Freezing of gait is one of the most frustrating and difficult symptoms for patients to suffer and specialists to treat. This common feature of Parkinson’s is not improved by Parkinson’s medications, and is inconsistently responsive to cueing techniques trialled by physiotherapists. This collaboration between NUI Galway and NHSGGC explored a novel intervention and results were very encouraging. We now need a larger scale study to further evaluate effectiveness and real-life practicality.”

The cueStim system was developed by Dean Sweeney as part of his PhD studies in the Discipline of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway. The results provide evidence that sensory electrical stimulation cueing delivered in a “fixed” rhythmic manner has the potential to be an effective cueing mechanism for Freezing of Gait prevention.

The study was jointly funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Framework 7 programme of the European Commission and was carried out in collaboration with Stobhill Hospital and Glasgow Royal Infirmary within NHSGGC.

To read the full study in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering, visit: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jhe/2018/4684925/.

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