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Mobile system helps Parkinson's sufferers walk

13th September 2005

A new system that analyses the walking patterns of people with Parkinson's disease has been developed by researchers in the US and Japan.

The portable system will help doctors monitor the progress of the disease and will also help to determine therapy and drug regimes more accurately.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system. Its symptoms include: uncontrollable trembling, difficulty walking, and postural problems that often lead to falls.

The symptoms are often controlled with dopamine agonist drugs but sometimes these can have numerous side-effects, including jerking movements. The patient's body can also build up a tolerance to the drug.

By enabling doctors to determine how advanced a patient's condition is, the new system enables medical staff to accurately prescribe drugs to help relieve postural problems and combat these side-effects.

Using a sensor placed on the patient's body, the system measures movement in three dimensions and feeds the readings to a computer. The patient's walking speed is also measured and the results are then analysed using a fractal system.

A fractal system reveals the differences in irregularity and complexity of the way regular patients and those with Parkinson's walk.

Masaki Sekine, Metin Akay, and Toshiyo Tamura, of the Department of Gerontechnology, National Institute for Longevity Sciences, in Aichi, Japan designed the system with help from the Thayer School of Engineering, New Hampshire USA.