Auditory stimuli influences gait in Parkinson’s patients
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Auditory stimuli influences gait in Parkinson’s patients

Pittsburgh : PA : USA | Sep 21, 2012 at 7:43 AM PDT
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Walking to the beat of a different drum could be beneficial during rehabilitation

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive, neurological disorder that affects at least 500,000 Americans. The symptoms include tremor, stiffness, difficulty moving and problems with walking and balance. Exercise is an important part of rehabilitation for Parkinson’s patients with many therapies leaning towards alternative medicine such as tai chi which has been shown to benefit patients by maintaining balance and strength.

View slideshow: Therapies that help gait for Parkinson's disease (PD)

University of Pittsburgh researchers demonstrate that researchers should further investigate the potential of auditory, visual, and tactile cues in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from illnesses like Parkinson's disease.

In this new study Dr. Ervin Sejdic, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh together with a team of collaborators, studied the effects of various metronomic stimuli (a mechanically produced beat).

The study included 15 healthy adults, aged 18 to 30 years that participated in two sessions consisting of five 15 minute trials in which participants walked with different cues.

In the first trial, participants had walked at their preferred walking speed. Then in following trials participants were asked to walk to a metronomic beat that had been produced by using visuals, sounds or touch. Lastly, participants had walked with all three signals simultaneously.

Dr. Sejdic commented on the results by stating “We found that 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."

With illness like Parkinson’s disease, a big question is whether researchers can better understand the changes that come with this deterioration. The researchers feel that visual cues could be considered as an alternative therapeutic agent in rehabilitation and should be further explored in the laboratory explains Dr. Sejdic.

Dr. Sejdic in conclusion comments “Oftentimes, 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’s flat, has few obstacles, and there aren’t any cues (like sound) around us. When we’re walking around our neighborhoods, 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.”

Dr. Sejdic and team of collaborators in the future would like to conduct similar walking trials with patients who have Parkinson’s disease, to observe if their gait is more or less stable.

“And, if we observe the same trends, then that would have direct connotations to rehabilitation processes,” says Sejdic.

Additionally the research team has plans to explore the impact of music on runners and walkers.

This study appears in the August issue of PLOS One.

Music therapy has been proven to be expressly effective for persons with Parkinson’s disease. It has demonstrated to dramatically improve gait patterns such as speed and muscle activation.

Research conducted at the Center for Biomedical Research in music at Colorado State University demonstrated the ability to coordinate gait patterns to auditory rhythm. This has resulted in dramatic gait improvements in speed, symmetry, and muscle activation patterns in persons with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke and cerebral palsy.

More information on Parkinson’s disease can be found online at Parkinson’s Foundation.

Debbie Nicholson is based in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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