Michigan doctoral student testing new device for Parkinson’s gait

Experimental NewGait PT device aims to help patients walk faster and better

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by Mary Chapman |

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A therapist assists a patient seen walking on a mat between two parallel bars.

A doctoral student at Central Michigan University (CMU) is testing the efficacy of NewGait, a new device for mobility conditions — used here for people with Parkinson’s disease — that aims to help patients with gait issues to walk faster and better, according to a university press release.

Brooke Ray, a CMU student in the department of physical therapy, is testing NewGait’s effectiveness in people with Parkinson’s, and to date, some 20 patients have participated in one-time walking sessions in the university’s Motion Analysis Center. Her aim is to provide research on the device’s usefulness for treating problems with gait, or a person’s particular way of walking, in Parkinson’s disease.

By turns, the test subjects walk with and without the new tool. Ray uses motion analysis software to collect gait data from the sessions, then analyzes the findings, with a focus on walking speed and step length.

Some 1.5 million U.S. residents are thought to have Parkinson’s — among them, more than 35,000 people in Michigan. The progressive neurodegenerative disease is characterized by motor symptoms, including problems with balance and difficulties walking, as well as bradykinesia, or abnormally slowed movements. Bradykinesia often manifests in Parkinson’s patients as a slow, shuffling gait.

NewGait remains under development — it is not federally approved — but it is available for sale. Ray will report her test findings to date on April 3 at a research symposium in the school’s Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions.

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Ray, who’s working under the supervision of Ksenia Ustinova, PhD, a professor in CMU’s physical therapy department, reportedly is heartened by the smiles she sees from many patients as they are testing the experimental equipment.

“Being able to participate in this research has given me an appreciation for the product development process, and the research that goes into every new medical device,” Ray said.

Even at the start of her doctor of physical therapy program, Ray had a strong interest in working with people who have a neurological condition, such as Parkinson’s. Her work in the school’s Motion Analysis Center, where she assesses test data, has both furthered and facilitated that interest.

Being able to participate in this research has given me an appreciation for the product development process, and the research that goes into every new medical device.

Ray’s doctoral research project is focused on the therapeutic effectiveness of the NewGait device for Parkinson’s patients, a new application. NewGait, being developed by a company of the same name, is a wearable orthotic device that uses strategically placed elastic bands to help refine movement and correct posture, depending on a patient’s needs.

The CMU center is a state-of-the-art facility committed to exploring human movement. The primary objective for its use is to foster collaboration among researchers from diverse fields, combining theoretical knowledge with clinical expertise.

Equipped with cutting-edge technology such as motion capture, virtual reality tools, and custom devices developed on site, the center is home to research in various areas of human motion. Its program areas include virtual rehabilitation, human development, biomechanical modeling, motor control, and the creation of quantification tools for clinical applications.

Ray will present her findings next month at the college’s 7th Annual Research Symposium. The meeting will feature research across health professions, presented by faculty and staff members as well as students. In the press release, the school called Ray’s work “a leap forward in mobility.”

“By providing hands-on experience to students with real-life impact, students can leave the health programs much more prepared for the future,” the release states.