NexStride uses laser light to help Parkinson's patients walk
In the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease, some people develop a condition known as "gait freeze," in which they temporarily lose the ability to step forward while walking. The NexStride device is designed to help, though, by giving them a laser target for their feet.
Gait freeze is obviously quite frustrating and debilitating, but it can also be hazardous. This is due to the fact that while the person's foot may stay stuck in place on the floor, their upper body continues to move forward, potentially causing them to lose their balance and fall.
While she was still a student at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), Sidney Collin was tasked with developing a walking aid for a local Parkinson's patient who was afflicted with gait freeze. She's now CEO of De Oro Devices, and the device that she created has evolved into the company's current product.
Utilizing rubber O-rings, NexStride is mounted on the user's cane, walker or walking poles. It incorporates both an adjustable-tempo electronic metronome, and a downwards-facing adjustable-angle laser – the latter projects a green line onto the floor in front of the user, perpendicular to their direction of travel.
Previous research has shown that gait freeze can be alleviated by visual targets on the ground – such as the lines between tiles – that the person can make a point of looking at and stepping over. Doing so activates circuits in their brain, which allow them to subsequently keep walking.
NexStride's laser lines are intended to serve as such targets, with the audio cues provided by the metronome helping users to establish a walking rhythm. In fact, we've previously covered a couple of systems that successfully did the same job using lasers mounted on the patient's shoes – these were perhaps a little gawkier than NexStride, though, and they didn't include the audio component.
Should you be interested, NexStride can be ordered via the link below, and is priced at US$599.