A new app co-designed by people living with Parkinson’s Disease is being credited with helping to stabilise the gait of those who struggle with controlling their body movements when walking.
Led by a team headed by UNSW Sydney biomedical engineer Dr Matthew A Brodie, the Walking Tall app was developed following a clinical trial funded by Shake It Up Australia Foundation and the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Part of the trial utilised the app’s gait re-training tool which allows users to set their own training time and pace before delivering a rhythmic metronomic beat for three different walking speeds designed to trigger movement.
It also features specific training sessions split into five different walks, plus rest periods, with users guided to try to walk at slow and fast speeds, as well as at a normal pace.
The app, which is free to download, also includes useful instructions such as ‘walk tall’, ‘shoulders back’ and ‘focus on big steps’, as well as encouraging audio commentary.
While the majority of people take walking for granted, those with Parkinson’s Disease can find it a major challenge given the fact that nerve cells deep in their brain responsible for planning and controlling body movement do not fully function.
Subsequently, people with Parkinson’s often find their gait becomes impaired, their coordination decreases and step length can be severely affected.
Gait dysfunction can therefore impact negatively on quality of life and independence, leading to falls of around 70 percent for those with Parkinson’s.
Dr Brodie said while the majority of people take walking for granted, those with Parkinson’s Disease can find it a major challenge given the fact that nerve cells deep in their brain responsible for planning and controlling body movement do not fully function.
“This app can give people confidence and also a sense of achievement that they can be empowered and do something for themselves to help their condition.”
“My goal in terms of my research is to have an impact now, not an impact in 10 years’ time. And I believe this app can help people with Parkinson’s Disease all around the world right now.”
“We’re training them in gait adaptability. Sometimes they also need to visualise a walking style because often people with Parkinson’s suffer from hypokinesia where their movements are not as big as they feel they are,” says Dr Brodie.
“So we are encouraging them to take exaggerated steps, which will be more like regular steps.”
Dr Brodie said the app lowers the barriers for people with Parkinson’s to train themselves to walk.
“We say to them that doing as little as six minutes a day, three days a week will still help.”
“And what we have found is that once people become engaged, and they find they are getting the benefits, then they actually want to do more. All they have to do is tap one button on their smartphone and they can start exercising, even just up and down the corridor in their home.”
“We also give them audio encouragement in the app and you can even ‘earn’ a gold cup if you complete the training over several days. All of that is another motivator for people.”
An estimated 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s Disease including around 150,000 in Australia alone.
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