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Researchers Develop Laser Shoes to Help Parkinson’s Patients Walk

Footwear with lasers may be the next step in helping people with Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers at the Netherland’s University of Twente are working on a laser device that helps with freezing of the gait (FOG), a symptom of Parkinson’s which prevents suffers from taking a step forward.

The high-tech solution is a shoe that uses a laser projection device on the toe, which creates a straight line ahead of its wearer. The line guides the wearer forward so they no longer feel as if their feet are frozen on the floor.

Digital Trends reported that the laser is operated by a pressure-sensitive switch under the sole of the shoe. The switch turns off when a person’s foot is lifted, and back on when they place their foot back down. The laser is oriented to project its beam orthogonally, in front of the patient’s opposite foot that’s about to be lifted. The laser line acts as a visual cue and is tuned exactly to the stepping frequency of the patients, thereby making it a closed-loop system.

Researchers tested 21 patients with Parkinson’s and gait freezing, both off and on medication. The study found that cueing using laser shoes was associated with a significant reduction in the number of FOG episodes, both “off” (45.9%) and “on” (37.7%) medication. Moreover, laser shoes significantly reduced the percent time frozen by 56.5% when “off” medication.

Researcher Murielle Ferraye told Digital Trends increased receptivity of Parkinson’s patients to visual information has been known for decades and is inherent to the disease itself.

She added, “Parkinson’s disease indeed affects automatic movements. Patients may compensate for this lack of automaticity by paying more attention to their movements. In this context, external cues help them focus on their stepping movements, hereby bypassing the disrupted automatic circuit in the brain and shifting to a more conscious way of walking.”