Laser shoes prevent 'freezing' in Parkinson patients

December 21, 2017, Radboud University
Figure1: laser shoes. Credit: Radboud University

Freezing of gait, an absence of forward progression of the feet despite the intention to walk, is a debilitating symptom of Parkinson's disease. Laser shoes that project a line on the floor to the rhythm of the footsteps help trigger the person to walk. The shoes benefit the wearer significantly, according to research by the University of Twente and Radboud university medical center, which will be published on December 20 in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Walking problems are common and very disabling in Parkinson's disease. In particular, freezing of gait is a severe symptom which generally develops in more advanced stages. It can last seconds to minutes and is generally triggered by the stress of an unfamiliar environment or when medication wears off. Because the foot remains glued to the but the upper body continues moving forward, it can cause the person to lose her balance and fall.

Lines on the floor

Parkinson patient 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 activates other circuits in the brain, hereby releasing the blockages and allowing the person to continue walking. This is why patients often make use of floor tiles at home. With the shoes, these useful cues can be continuously applied in everyday life, to walk better and safer. The principle behind the laser shoes is simple: upon foot contact, the left 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, and so on (see videos below the text). 

Video 1: Patient walking with laser shoes switched off.

Beneficial effect

The present research study shows a in a large group of patients. The number of 'freezing' episodes was reduced by 46% with the use of the shoes. The duration of these episodes was also divided by two. Both effects were strongest in patients while they had not taken their medication yet. This is typically when patients experience the most problems with walking. But an 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."

Video 2: Patient walking again, but now with laser shoes turned on. Credit: Radboud University

Activating the laser

Of the nineteen patients who tested the shoes, the majority would be happy to use them. The did not seem to mind that the laser was activated for each 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."

Murielle Ferraye, who developed the laser shoes, conducted her study at the Donders Institute at Radboud university medical center and the MIRA Institute for Biomedical Technology and Technological Medicine at the University of Twente.

Explore further: The best shoes for healthy feet

Related Stories

The best shoes for healthy feet

October 6, 2017
Wearing a pair of ill-fitting shoes can make walking across the room uncomfortable.

The right shoes can help prevent falls

August 10, 2017
(HealthDay)—Falls are the leading cause of death among people 65 and older, government surveys show. More than 2.8 million adults were treated in the emergency room and 27,000 people died from falls in 2014, the most recent ...

Knee pain sufferers can kick ugly shoes to the curb

July 11, 2016
Conventional walking shoes are about as effective as unloading shoes for improving pain and function in knee osteoarthritis. Results of a randomized, controlled trial are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Bicycling 'overloads' movement networks with Parkinson's

September 23, 2017
(HealthDay)—Bicycling suppresses abnormal beta synchrony in the Parkinsonian basal ganglia, according to a study published online Sept. 11 in the Annals of Neurology.

How to start a walking plan

October 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Are you completely new to exercise? Getting fit doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Podiatrist offers tips for teachers to put their best foot forward this school year

August 23, 2017
Students aren't the only ones heading back to school, and according to a podiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine, teachers should be sure to include comfortable shoes on their shopping lists.

Recommended for you

Researchers trace Parkinson's damage in the heart

July 13, 2018
A new way to examine stress and inflammation in the heart will help Parkinson's researchers test new therapies and explore an unappreciated way the disease puts people at risk of falls and hospitalization.

Study raises doubts on a previous theory of Parkinson's disease

July 6, 2018
Parkinson's disease was first described by a British doctor more than 200 years ago. The exact causes of this neurodegenerative disease are still unknown. In a study recently published in eLife, a team of researchers led ...

Drug protects neurons in Parkinson's disease

June 27, 2018
Systemic treatment of animal models with israpidine, a calcium channel inhibitor, reduced mitochondrial stress that might cause Parkinson's disease, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in the Journal of Clinical ...

Half of those on Parkinson's drugs may develop impulse control problems

June 20, 2018
Over time, half of the people taking certain drugs for Parkinson's disease may develop impulse control disorders such as compulsive gambling, shopping or eating, according to a study published in the June 20, 2018, online ...

New evidence sheds light on how Parkinson's disease may happen

June 14, 2018
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have identified unexpected new key players in the development of an early onset form of Parkinson's disease called Parkinsonism. These key players are ...

Scientists unravel molecular mechanisms of Parkinson's disease

June 12, 2018
Detailed brain cell analysis has helped researchers uncover new mechanisms thought to underlie Parkinson's disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.