Australian Researchers Support Smart Garment Technology for Parkinson’s Patients

A team of researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and UNSW Sydney has received a grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Shake It Up Australia Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to test eHealth and smart garment technologies to prevent falls in people with Parkinson’s disease.

NeuRA’s Dr Matthew Brodie and Associate Professor Kim Delbaere, who lead the study, are working with industry partner Sensoria Health and aim to make StandingTall-PD the leading eHealth solution for maximising mobility and preventing falls in people with Parkinson’s disease.

“Existing dopamine therapies offer benefit in treating motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s but may not alleviate gait and balance challenges,” says Jamie L. Hamilton, PhD, MJFF Associate Director. She adds, “this project has the potential to become an affordable option to address gait and balance issues and improve overall quality-of-life for people with Parkinson’s.”

The neuro-rehabilitation program, known as StandingTall-PD, uses visual, audio and sensory cues to help rewire the parts of the brain that control walking in people with Parkinson’s. The program aims to prevent freezing-of-gait and falls, and enhance participants’ independence.

How does the program work?

Participants will be given a NeuRA training mat with colour-coded stepping targets, a pair of Sensoria Smart Socks, an iPad and phone. The program, practised daily, will encourage participants to step on coloured stepping targets that match a series of colours displayed on their iPad. At the same time, they will listen to rhythmic auditory cues like music and a metronome beat that are synchronised with the vibrating Smart Socks.

The combination of visual, audio and sensory elements helps to form new connections in less affected parts of the brain, leading to improved walking ability.

The program enables participants to self-manage and monitor their own progress via an app on their phone. The app can also trigger stimuli during everyday activities, such as vibration in their Smart Socks, if they are in danger of experiencing freezing-of- gait, falls or if they show signs of shuffling feet.

Clinicians can also monitor participants’ progress remotely and adjust the program to provide ongoing and personalised continuity of care.