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Medical Device Uses Light to help Parkinson's Patients Overcome "frozen gait' Issues

Tuesday April 23, 2013

JANELLE MILES

news.com.au - Parkinson's disease patients, including Toowoomba man Clark Hoey, often experience what doctors describe as "freezing of gait", literally stopping in their tracks for seconds at a time.

The condition can lead to falls and loss of independence.
Five years ago, Brisbane-based neuro-psychiatrist Rod Marsh came up with an idea for a medical device to alleviate the problem.

A product based on his concept, designed by 12 engineers at technology company Bright Devices, was launched at the St Andrew's War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane last week .

Designed to be worn on a belt, the device, dubbed Agilitas, senses when the user starts to freeze, and projects a red dot on the ground, which prompts the person to continue walking.

Dr Marsh said when people developed Parkinson's disease, the "automatic" brain processes instructing the body to walk started to fail and anything diverting a patient's attention could result in "freezing of gait".

"When patients freeze, I would commonly have to put my foot down in front of them and they would step over my foot and be off walking again," he said.

The red laser dot acts as a visual cue to the brain and refocuses patients on getting moving again.

Mr Hoey, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1999, said he was happy to be a "guinea pig".

The 65-year-old said since he had started using the device, his "freezing" episodes were less frequent and shorter in duration.

His wife Deb said the device, retailing for $2199, had been amazing.

"When the battery goes flat, he's struggling," she said. "It just shows you how much it does help him."

But she said the Agilitas worked better indoors because the red dot was difficult to see in bright sunlight.

Dr Marsh said his hope for the product was that it would improve the quality of life for Parkinson's disease patients, but stressed it did not cure the problem.

An estimated 80,000 Australians have Parkinson's disease, including 17,000 Queenslanders.