A group of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences have demonstrated that a wearable exosuit was able to help a patient with Parkinson’s disease walk without freezing.
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, freezing of gait is defined as “ … sudden, short and temporary episodes of an inability to move the feet forward despite the intention to walk.” Freezing of gait not only affects a patient’s quality of life, but it can be dangerous because it may cause a person to fall. Treatments include medications and deep brain stimulation, but neither are very effective.
The soft exosuit, developed in collaboration with clothing designers, physical therapists, and rehabilitation scientists, is worn around the hips and thighs and gives a push to the hips when the leg swings forward during a stride. Researchers spent six months studying the device with a 73-year-old man with Parkinson’s. The patient suffered from 10 freezing incidents a day, which severely limited his independence and caused frequent falls.
The suit immediately eliminated the man’s freezing when walking indoors and significantly reduced his freezing episodes outdoors. He was able to walk farther and faster and the device reduced his gait variability by 25%. “The suit helps me take longer steps and when it is not active, I notice I drag my feet much more. It has really helped me, and I feel it is a positive step forward. It could help me to walk longer and maintain the quality of my life,” the patient said.