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article imageLaser-equipped shoes help Parkinsons patients take that next step

By Karen Graham     Dec 22, 2017 in Health
"Gait-freeze" is one of the more debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and is not only inconvenient but can be hazardous. Dutch scientists have come up with something to help Parkinson's patients walk safely - Laser shoes.
Walking problems are common and can be very disabling in people with Parkinson's disease. One of the more debilitating symptoms seen in Parkinson's is something called "gait-freeze." Scientists from the University of Twente and Radboud University Medical Center have come up with something that significantly reduces the problem – they've developed shoes with lasers in them.
Gait-freeze occurs when a person temporarily losses the ability to step forward while walking. This sensation can last a few seconds to several minutes and is generally triggered by the stress of an unfamiliar environment. This manifests itself with the patient's foot literally being stuck to the floor while the upper body continues to move forward. This can be potentially dangerous in that a fall can cause serious injury.
The patient steps over or towards the line  which activates the laser on the right shoe  and so on.
The patient steps over or towards the line, which activates the laser on the right shoe, and so on.
Radboud University
Lines on the floor
One interesting thing scientists have learned is that Parkinson's patients experience a unique phenomenon. By consciously looking at objects on the floor, such as the lines from a zebra crossing ('visual cues'), and stepping over them, they are able to overcome their blockages during walking.
This conscious act activates neural circuits in the brain, releasing the blockages and allowing the patient to continue walking. This is why patients seem to walk better on a tiled floor. And this "visual clue" phenomenon was replicated by scientists in the form of the laser shoes.
The principle behind the laser shoes is simple: upon foot contact, the left shoe projects a line on the floor in front of the right foot. The patient steps over or towards the line, which activates the laser on the right shoe. The video below shows a patient with Parkinson's walking with the laser's in his shoes turned off.
Laboratory testing of the laser shoes
A total of 19 patients with Parkinson's Disease were tested using the laser shoes. The number of 'freezing' episodes was reduced by 46% with the use of the shoes. Another interesting thing was noted. The positive effects were strongest in patients while they had not taken their medication yet, while additional improvement was also seen after the patients had been taking their medication.
"Our tests were administered in a controlled lab setting with and without medication," says researcher Murielle Ferraye. " Further research in their everyday environment is necessary. We plan on testing this using laser shoes that in the meantime came on the market."
Of the nineteen patients who tested the shoes, the majority would be happy to use them. The patients did not seem to mind that the laser was activated for every single step. "Ideally, the laser should only be activated once the blockage is detected, but we're not quite there yet," says Ferraye. "Freezing is a very complex phenomenon."
More about Parkinson's Disease, gaitfreezing, Lasers, laser shoe, visual target
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