Wearable cyborgs improve walking for Parkinson’s patients: Study

Device called effective at helping with different types of gait disturbance

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Several people with Parkinson’s disease were able to improve their ability to walk by using a “wearable cyborg” over their torso, a study reports.

The study, “Gait improvement with wearable cyborg HAL trunk unit for parkinsonian patients: five case reports,” was published in Scientific Reports. The work was funded by Japan’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Motor symptoms that affect bodily movements are among Parkinson’s disease’s defining features and many patients have issues with walking. Wearable cyborgs are robotic devices that go on or around the body. They use sensors to detect movement and, with sophisticated algorithms, can move in tandem with the person wearing them to help support that person’s movements.

The researchers described three Parkinson’s patients with a range of walking problems that were improved with a wearable cyborg.

The study specifically used a device that goes around the torso, a bit like a vest or corset. It works by pushing on the trunk in side to side and back and forth motions to help maintain a stable gait when the person walks.

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3 patients with different walking problems

The first patient was a 69-year-old woman with a staggering gait, or a tendency to sway and be unbalanced. When using the wearable cyborg, she was significantly more stable, data showed.

The second patient was a 65-year-old man with a festinating gait. This walking pattern, which is common among people with Parkinson’s, is marked by unusually small steps with the trunk leaning forward. The man’s festination was significantly reduced while the wearable cyborg was worn.

The third patient was an 80-year-old man with a freezing gait, wherein he would suddenly and unintentionally stop walking. With the wearable cyborg, the rhythm of his steps was more stable, an effect that persisted even after he stopped wearing the device, results indicated.

Two patients with a related movement disorder called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)-pure akinesia with gait freezing were also described. One had gait freezing, the other took unusually small steps. Using the cyborg helped both improve their walking ability.

The researchers concluded the wearable cyborg “was effective in improving the index associated with each gait disturbance,” but noted more research is needed to verify and expand on the study’s results. They called the use of wearable cyborgs a feasible approach to explore with Parkinon’s-related walking problems.