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ExerciseMay 15, 2024

Staying active helps people with Parkinson’s to maintain autonomy and independence, says gaitQ CEO

With May being designated as 'National Walking Month', PhysioUpdate conducted a Q&A interview with Tristan Collins, gaitQ’s chief executive. Tristan tells PhysioUpdate editor Ian A McMillan how the much-lauded innovation – which has been developed with input from neurophysiotherapists – helps people with Parkinson’s and other conditions to walk more, walk better and enjoy an improved quality of life.

Why is walking important for people with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions? 

Walking enables people to enjoy all of the physical, mental and emotional benefits that contribute to an improved quality of life. Staying active is vital for helping people with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions to maintain autonomy and independence. Walking improves motor function and reduces the risk of falls, as well as reducing symptoms such as stiffness and bradykinesia (slow movements and hesitations).

It can help preserve their cognitive function, memory and attention spans, in addition to having a potential preventative effect against cognitive deterioration. There are social benefits too – being able to walk with confidence can increase time spent outside the home, helping people with Parkinson’s to maintain, or even develop new, social relationships.

 

Tristan Collins says that gaitQ-affiliated neurophysiotherapists can offer induction sessions

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Tell us how gaitQ helps in practical ways

Most people with Parkinson’s are affected by mobility challenges, such as freezing of gait, festination, stiffness, bradykinesia, and falling, which make walking difficult. gaitQ® empowers them to walk more, walk better and fall less by developing an innovative wearable cueing technology that helps them maintain a stable and fluid gait.

Sensory cueing is widely reported to improve mobility for people with Parkinson’s by providing an alternative focus point when struggling to walk. Our cueing device, gaitQ tempo™, is worn on both legs, under or over clothing, and uses a discreet vibrational cueing system to help people with Parkinson’s to walk with confidence. The device is user-centric, accessible, and simple to self-manage both in and out of the home.

What makes it different to other products in the field?

Compared to other cueing solutions, gaitQ tempo is extremely discreet as it can be covered by clothing. Other cueing devices are often less discreet; some provide visual and auditory sensory signals, which can draw the attention of people who are nearby – something that most people with Parkinson’s would prefer to avoid. Such cueing methods can also be simplistic and increase task loading.

Our device is fitted with people comfortable straps – not sticky patches which can cause skin reactions. It is wirelessly connected to a remote control which allows adjustments to the speed of cueing in line with the user’s needs and surroundings. As a result, gaitQ tempo helps people with Parkinson’s to enjoy the benefits of walking with minimal impact.

 Insights from our physio partners are helping us to further develop the product, including the collection of valuable movement data in the home environment so we can track disease progression [Tristan Collins]

How was it developed and have any physiotherapists been involved?

The gaitQ technology was developed at the University of Oxford, with input from neurologists, neurophysiotherapists, and Parkinson's nurses from NHS organisations across England. The feedback we received from healthcare professionals was extremely positive. The clinicians recommended that the device could be used as an adjunct to medication to reduce freezing incidents, helping to improve patient quality of life.

We have spoken to more than 200 people with Parkinson’s, their carers and clinicians to ensure our innovation meets the needs of people with Parkinson’s and improves their lives. Insights from our physio partners are helping us to further develop the product, including the collection of valuable movement data in the home environment so we can track disease progression.

What evidence is available to show it is effective and is more research in the pipeline?

Cueing is a key intervention used by physiotherapists working with people with Parkinson’s, and is a clinically proven solution that helps improve gait quality, reduce freezing of gait, and therefore lowers the risk of falls and increases confidence. A 2023 feasibility study, funded by gaitQ, found that vibration cues applied to the lower leg via wearable devices, like the gaitQ tempo, can improve gait for people with Parkinson’s.

We have been awarded a £1.4 million research grant by the National Institute for Health Research , working with the University of Exeter. The aim is to transform care for individuals with Parkinson’s and to explore the broader impact of gaitQ tempo on various conditions affecting mobility, including post-stroke recovery and the aftermath of hip and knee replacements.

We have also recently been awarded a joint £800,000 research grant in partnership with a Swiss medical device company called machineMD. The aim is to gain a better understanding of disease progression in people with Parkinson’s through the tracking of movement biomarkers. This data, collected through gaitQ tempo devices, will help physios provide better care for people with Parkinson’s and enable them to develop more personalised and effective treatment plans.

For example, if the data show increased freezing episodes in the morning, physios could use this information to provide people with Parkinson’s with specific guidance including cueing techniques or advice on walking exercises, for use in their home at this time.

Is the product expensive and how can PhysioUpdate readers find out more?

gaitQ tempo is available to purchase direct from gaitQ for £585, following a free induction session with a gaitQ-affiliated neurophysiotherapist induction. Physios can find out more by registering their interest here

Tristan Collins is chief executive with gaitQ, an Oxford-based medical technology organisation 

About Parkinson's

  • Parkinson's disease is a neurological movement disorder affecting approximately 145,000 people in the UK and 10 million people worldwide. Rates are expected to nearly double within 40 years
  • around half of people with Parkinson's suffer from debilitating gait symptoms such as freezing (inability to initiate or continue walking). These gait-related issues prevent people with Parkinson's having active, enjoyable and independent lives. Source: NIHR

The national charity Living Streets has designated May as ‘National Walking Month’. It is urging people to share their ‘magical walking moments’ using the hashtag #MagicOfWalking 

Author: Edited by Ian A McMillan
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