A research project at Washington State University (WSU) is analyzing people's gait in an effort to spot early signs of Glaucoma – often manifested as routine bumps into obstacles, and the uneven placement of feet. The findings could one day be used as an early detection method for the condition.
Glaucoma is extremely common. An estimated three million Americans currently have the condition, more than 120,000 people in the US are blind because of it, and according to the World Health Organization, it's the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. There's currently no cure for it, and it's usually diagnosed late, when it's more difficult to treat. Now, gait analysis tech is being utilized in the fight against the condition.
Many patients are only diagnosed with glaucoma once they begin to experience ocular discomfort, but previous studies have found that patients fall more often as their visual deterioration continues unchecked, making the way someone walks a good place to look for the condition early on.
Over the last year, the WSU team has been developing a new tool that uses a series of sensors, designed to be worn on shoes, to carefully and accurately gather gait information. The platform records specific features of a patient's gait, such as step length, evenness of step and equity between feet.
For data gathering, patients are required to walk through a series of tests wearing the sensors, such as walking a short distance in a normal manner, standing up and walking a distance before returning, and stepping over and around numerous obstacles.
The ongoing project is being conducted in conjunction with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with that institute gathering the data, while WSU works on algorithm design and development.
Clinical trials of the method are underway, with the team currently looking for new participants suffering from varied stages of the condition. In order to fully assess the effectiveness of the method, the results will be compared to those of a control group. The study is ongoing, and future results will show just how much glaucoma impacts gait, and therefore how effective the new method of detection could prove to be.
The researchers recently presented the findings of their work so far at the Wireless Health 2015 conference in Bethesda, Maryland. For a look at some of the early data gathering process, you can take a look at the video below.