One of the most serious neurodegenerative disorder of the brain is the Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The disorder is characterized by the brain producing less and less dopamine, which is responsible for regulating body movements and emotions. When more than 60% of the dopamine production is terminated, the motor symptoms appear. As a result, the patients are not able to control their own movements, especially when emotionally strained. Simply put, it stops them from performing mental and physical actions which are necessary for a normal day to day life.
Although Parkinson’s is not a fatal disease, it gained the attention of experts in the medical field as the complications can be dead serious. Worse, more and more people are suffering from it. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) enlisted Parkinson’s as the 14th most common cause of death in the US. In the UK, at least 1 in every 500 people have the disease; that is, 127,000 patients in the country alone. Needless to say, Parkinson’s disease needs to be targeted, and a cure has to be discovered. This is why most charitable support to Parkinson’s foundations are dedicated mainly to research in an attempt to discover a cure and help improve the lives of those with Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s is quite an individual illness. You cannot treat everyone with the same method of medical or non-medical treatment. In addition, different people experience different attacks in varied conditions, circumstances, and lifetime period. Thus, aside from medication and therapy, the patients need to learn to utilize some personalized ways to recuperate when attacks take place. The case is worst for those whose symptoms have started to develop earlier as they have to live with the disease for a longer time.
One of the commonest attacks Parkinson’s patients suffer from is freezing. It is when the patients cannot get themselves off of the ground, are unable to move from any position, or when they make repeated movements; thus, they freeze. Painfully, this comes without warning. This condition can result in serious injuries or can even be life-threatening. Typically, only the feet are frozen, leaving the rest of the body parts movable. The challenge for patients is how they can get back on their feet and how they can stand the embarrassment when in public. The latter seems to have a more serious effect than ever imagined.
There are several ways to deal with freezing episodes. Some listen to music to walk on rhythm, some follow a step by step process to get unstuck like the ‘5S Method’ developed by Sarah King (Stop, Stand Tall, Shake It Off, Shift Your Weight and Step, some imagine singing a military song, some count out loud in their heads, and some others aim their next step on a specific spot on the floor. In fact, the possible tricks and strategies are endless. These days, experts’ attention has turned to technology. One who looked deeply into this possibility was Neha Chaudhary.
The Concept Behind the Stick: Walk to Beat
In her attempt to provide a solution to Parkinson patients’ ailment, Neha Chaudhary, a Pakistani student of the University of West England (UWE), came up with a new technology— a stick that helps Parkinson’s patients overcome freezing.
Chaudhary is an engineer by profession and is currently a postgraduate marketing student. The technology she developed was originally her undergraduate research back in 2014 which she eventually pursued after graduating. Her main inspiration for this project was her father who suffered from the disease himself. She also found inspiration from the patients she came in contact with at a large Parkinson’s charity in the UK.
Upon dealing with these people, Chaudhary found out that Parkinson’s patients suffered more emotional and social torture more than anything else. The reason? Most of them avoided going out because of fear of having attacks while in public. Nevertheless, those who found the courage to socialize or just go out of their comfort, started using a certain technology or strategy to help them deal with an imminent attack. Surprisingly, most of them were not content with what is available. Chaudhary found that these patients especially hated the idea of having to use anything that made them look miserable, like some outrageously medical-looking equipment. This is the very inspiration behind her concept of a technology that is discrete and aesthetically good-looking, which she called Walk to Beat.
Walk to Beat is basically a walking stick installed with a pulse-inducing technology in its handle that enables frozen muscles to move. Thus, this enables patients to get back to their rhythm and start walking again. It is made of plastic and is lightweight, easy to carry, and packed with sensors. When it works, it activates dead muscles although nothing is heard or seen. The pulses are the only ones felt by patients. The main idea was to keep the attack a secret to protect the dignity of patients. But there is nothing to worry about because they can overcome freezing with the stick.
Chaudhary recognizes that her technology, just like any other available ones, only temporarily relieves the effects of the disease. Nevertheless, she believes that her product is able to provide assistance to patients and keep their ego intact despite having to go through episodes of Parkinson’s. According to her, during the testing period, the patients were overjoyed and expressed deep satisfaction as they experienced first-hand how it actually works. Nowadays, Walk to Beat has already helped thousands of patients from testing it in Britain. She takes pride in her achievement and considers it her biggest accomplishment so far. With her best, Chaudhary is trying to improve her technology even more.
Status of Walk to Beat Today
It is important to note that Walk to Beat is still continually advancing. At its advent, it had several modifications to further improve the technology. The developer, Neha Chaudhary, needed to coordinate with medical experts and the Robotic Innovation Facility (RIF) at Bristol. The former allowed the modification of the first prototype from which the stick had a button the patients needed to press every time they have the attack. The problem was evident— the patients can hardly multitask during an attack. Once the muscles stop working, it takes both time and calm mind to recuperate. Hence, this had to be modified.
Thereafter, Chaudhary connected with RIF to make some modifications with the automation. This was when the stick had a more advanced pulse detection function. Basically, the button is pressed only once when the patient starts to walk. Then, it detects whether there is movement and even records the number of steps taken. Once the patient stops walking, the motor activates, thus sending pulses to the handle. When the patient walks back again, it turns off automatically.
Another advancement done to the new prototype is its rechargeability. To date, the product is scheduled to undergo yet another set of clinical trials. It will also be made more aesthetically pleasing. Chaudhary also looks into maximizing the recorded data in the stick so that it could be used for several purposes.
To date, the goal remains the same— to create a simple, aesthetically pleasing walking stick that would help Parkinson’s patients recover from freezing episodes.