Twente helps people get moving. The University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, is a public research school with degree programs in diverse fields focuses on engineering. We’ve written previously about Twente projects to assist movement and walking. We covered a posture shirt that aids muscular skeletal rehab. We also wrote about a stroke suit to help stroke victims get the most from rehab at home. Researchers recently published a paper about another Twente project, this one involving tech for Parkinson’s disease patients, in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

People in advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease often have difficulty walking. Referred to as “gait freezing,” the symptom interrupts forward motion by interfering with foot movement while the upper body is still in motion. The freeze can throw off the patient’s balance and result in a fall. According to Twente researchers, gait freeze usually lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. It typically occurs when medication is wearing off or the patient is in unfamiliar environments. Patients with gait freeze who consciously look at and step over marks or objects on the ground, however, use a different part of the brain and can keep moving. The Twente project to overcome gait freeze has had promising results by simulating the alternate brain signaling with a laser on each shoe.

When a Parkinson’s patient wearing laser-equipped shoes takes a step, the light on the forward shoe projects a line in front of the opposite foot. The light goes off when the shoe is lifted and, in turn, the laser on the opposite foot lights up on the moment of ground contact. The study results indicated a reduction in patients’ incidence and persistence of gait freezes. Freezing incidents were reduced by 48% while patients were wearing laser-equipped shoes and freeze duration was cut in half. Improvements took place both before and while patients took medication, but the laser shoes made a greater difference when patients hadn’t yet taken their meds. The shoes are still in development. The next step is to find a way to have the laser lights activate only when gait freeze is detected.