Laser equipped shoes helps Parkinson patients walk


One of the debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease is Freezing of gait, an absence of forward progression of the feet despite the intention to walk.

Thanks to technology, Laser shoes that project a line on the floor to the rhythm of the footsteps will help trigger the person to walk. According to research by the University of Twente and Radboud university medical center, the shoes benefit the wearer significantly, progress regarding this new innovation will be published on December 20 in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

People with Parkinson’s disease experience severe walking problems. In particular, freezing of gait is a severe symptom which generally develops in more advanced stages. It can last for a while and is generally triggered by either the stress of an unfamiliar environment or when medication wears off. People suffering from this frequently loose their balance and even fall sometimes because the foot remains glued to the floor but the upper body continues moving forward.

Those suffering from this ailment consciously look at objects on the floor, such as the lines from a zebra crossing (‘visual cues’), and stepping over them, they are able to overcome their blockages during walking. This activates other circuits in the brain, hereby releasing the blockages and allowing the person to continue walking. This explains why patients often make use of floor tiles at home.

With the laser shoes, these useful cues can be continuously applied in everyday life, the idea behind the laser shoes is as simple as ABC; upon foot contact, the left shoe projects a line on the floor in front of the right foot. The patient steps over or towards the line, which activates the laser on the right shoe.

The present research study shows that patients who use the shoe benefited from it. The number of ‘freezing’ experienced was reduced by 46% with the use of the shoes. Effects were strongest in patients while they had not taken their medication yet. This is typically when patients experience the most problems with walking. But an improvement was also seen after the patients had been taking their medication.

Our tests were administered in a controlled lab setting with and without medication. Further research in their everyday environment is necessary. We plan on testing this using laser shoes that in the meantime came on the market. — Murielle Ferraye

Murielle Ferraye, who developed the laser shoes, conducted her study at the Donders Institute at Radboud university medical center, the MIRA Institute for Biomedical Technology and Technological Medicine at the University of Twente.

The patients did not seem to mind that the laser was activated for each single step.  “Ideally, the laser should only be activated once the blockage is detected, but we’re not quite there yet,” says Ferraye. “Freezing is a very complex phenomenon.”

A study of 21 Parkinson’s patients found that the laser shoes reduced incidents of gait freezing by nearly half, and cut the duration of those freezes by more than half. Ferraye explained in a university news release, that future work will be aimed at activating the laser only when a freeze is detected.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. The symptoms generally come on slowly over time. Early in the disease, the most obvious are shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking. Thinking and behavioral problems may also occur. Dementia becomes common in the advanced stages of the disease. Depression and anxiety are also common occurring in more than a third of people with PD. Other symptoms include sensory, sleep, and emotional problems. The main motor symptoms are collectively called “parkinsonism”, or a “parkinsonian syndrome”.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is generally unknown, but believed to involve both genetic and environmental factors. Those with a family member affected are more likely to get the disease themselves

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