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eHealth and smart garment to prevent falls for people with Parkinson’s

A combined team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) received funding to test eHealth and smart garment technologies.

According to a recent report, the eHealth and smart garment technologies were designed to prevent falls in people with Parkinson’s disease.

This project has the potential to become an affordable option to address gait and balance issues as well as improve overall quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Matthew Brodie and Associate Professor Kim Delbaere, are working with an industry partner as they aim to make StandingTall-PD the leading eHealth solution to maximising mobility and preventing falls in people with the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement.

Existing dopamine therapies offer benefit in treating motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s but may not alleviate gait and balance challenges.

Falls are a common and often devastating event in the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. These are frequently caused by gait impairments, postural instability and freezing-of-gait.

Freezing-of-gait is a brief absence of forward momentum of the feet despite the intention to walk.

StandingTall-PD is a neuro-rehabilitation program that uses visual, audio and haptic sensory cues in order to help rewire the parts of the brain that control walking in people with Parkinson’s.

The program aims to prevent freezing-of-gait and falls, which thereby enhances the independence of the participants.

Among the investment that they received from their industry partner for the study is the development of the textile sensor infused Smart Socks with haptic feedback and core microelectronics.

Participants of the program will be receiving several items. These items include a mat that has colour-coded stepping targets, a pair of Smart Socks, an iPad and a phone.

The program, which will be practised daily, will encourage participants to step on the coloured stepping targets that match the series of colours displayed on their iPad.

While doing this, they will be listening to rhythmic auditory cues as well, such as music and metronome beat that are synchronised with the vibrating Smart Socks.

This combination of visual, audio and sensory elements helps to form new connections in less affected parts of the brain, which may lead to improved walking ability.

The participants will be able to self-manage and monitor their own progress as the program provides this information via an app on their phone.

Moreover, the installed app can also trigger stimuli during everyday activities, such as vibration in their Smart Socks if they are in danger of experiencing freezing-of-gait, falls, or even if they show signs of shuffling feet.

In addition, clinicians are also capable of monitoring the progress of the participants remotely. They can then adjust the program to provide ongoing and personalised continuity of care.

People with Parkinson’s disease have substantial barriers to maintaining their independence.

The program has individually tailored tools to empower all people with Parkinson’s to manage their symptoms, increase capacity to remain independent and enjoy the highest possible quality of life.

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