How walking to a beat could help relieve symptoms of Parkinson's disease



16:22 GMT, 21 September 2012


Walking to a beat could give more freedom of movement to patient's with Parkinson's, say scientists

Walking to music could help patients with Parkinson's disease, according to new research.

A study found healthy individuals improved their gait after undergoing trials in which they moved in step to a beat.

Scientists believe the same technique could improve the symptoms of patients with the disease which causes shaking and problems getting about.

They say their findings published in PLOS One show the potential of auditory, visual and tactile cues in the treatment of victims of such conditions.

Engineer Dr Ervin Sejdic, of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues analysed the effects of various mechanically produced beats, known as 'metronomic stimuli', on fifteen adults.

The volunteers, aged between 18 and 30, took part in two sessions consisting of five fifteen minute tsts in which they walked with different cues.

The first was at their preferred speed, and then they were asked to walk to do it to a specific rhythm produced by way of visuals, sound or touch.
Finally they walk with all three cues simultaneously, the pace of which was set to that of the first trial.

Dr Sejdic said: 'We found the auditory cue had the greatest influence on human gait, while the visual cues had no significant effect whatsoever.

'This finding could be particularly helpful for patients with Parkinson's disease, for example, as auditory cues work very well in their rehabilitation.'

Michael J Fox last week at the Emmy Awards in LA

Actor Michael J Fox set up a research foundation to try and find a cure for Parkinson's after he was diagnosed at the age of 30 in 1991

He said with illnesses like Parkinson's a big question is whether researchers can better understand the changes that come with this deterioration.

Visual cues could be considered as an alternative in rehabilitation and should be further explored in the laboratory.

Dr Sejdic said: 'Often a patient with Parkinson's disease comes in for an exam, completes a gait assessment in the laboratory and everything is great.

'But then, the person leaves and falls down. Why Because a laboratory is a strictly controlled environment. It is flat, has few obstacles and there are not any cues, like sound, around us.

'When we are walking around our neighbourhoods, however, there are sidewalks, as well as streetlights and people honking car horns. You have to process all of this information together. We are trying to create that real-life space in the laboratory.'

In the future, his team would like to conduct similar walking trials with Parkinson's patients to observe whether their gait is more or less stable.

Added Dr Sejdic: 'Can we see the same trends that we observed in healthy people And, if we observe the same trends, then that would have direct connotations to rehabilitation processes.'

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition that affects 127,000 people in the UK. The cause is unknown, but people with the condition don't have enough of a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which slows down movement.

The main symptoms of Parkinson's are tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement. The symptoms can be controlled using a combination of drugs, therapies and occasionally surgery.