Those of you who are familiar with Parkinson’s disease know about one of the symptoms referred to as gait freeze. When this happens, the person temporarily loses the ability to step forward while walking. Scientists from the University of Twente and Radboud University Medical Center have come up with shoes that employ lasers to significantly reduce gait freeze.
Gait freeze is generally seen in advanced stages of Parkinson’s and is not only inconvenient but can be dangerous as well. The person’s foot may stay stuck in one spot but his body tends to follow Newton’s first law and continues to move forward. This results in a loss of balance and falling.
One observation is that this occurs less when the person has visual targets like the lines between the tiles on the floor. They look at them as something to step over and this activates the circuits in their brain which allows them to keep on walking.
The laser shoes employ the same principle. They project a red line on the floor in front of the other shoe when they come in contact with the ground and this is something that is perceived same as lines between the tiles and allows the person to keep walking. The second laser activates in the second shoe when it comes down and the process continues as long as you keep walking.
19 Parkinson’s patients were made to wear these shoes and the results showed that there was a 46% decrease in gait freeze with these shoes. And, when the episodes did occur, their timing was reduced to half of what it originally was.
The scientists are working to make the lasers appear only when the episode occurs but having a hard time with it. “Ideally, the laser should only be activated once the blockage is detected, but we’re not quite there yet,” says researcher Murielle Ferraye, who created the shoes. “Freezing is a very complex phenomenon.”
The video below shows a man walking without the shoes:
The second video shows the same man walking around while wearing the shoes:
Pretty cool, isn’t it?