A minimal robotic suit, on the hips and thighs, for MELT the movement. This is the idea that allowed a patient with Parkinson’s to be able to walk more quickly, freeing him from the annoying sensation of not being able to move his feet which unfortunately often accompanies the disease. And that neither drugs nor deep brain stimulation had managed to resolve.
What is freezing
The idea of the soft robot – a sort of exoskeleton, but slimmer – was officially presented on pages Of Nature Medicine. It was tested on only one patient and the authors themselves, a team from Harvard and Boston University, speak of it as a proof of concept, but it is a promising solution against the phenomenon of freezing. In fact, this is the name given to the inability of Parkinson’s patients to walk, even if they wanted to, and which forces them to take small steps, with the risk of falling. A problem which, researchers point out, affects around 80% of patients with the disease and against which treatments, including deep brain stimulation, do not work or do not work for a long time. Hence the idea of looking elsewhere, perhaps for outside help.
by Donatella Zorzetto
A soft robot to dissolve movement
The wearable device created by the researchers consists of a belt that rests on the lower abdomen, containing batteries and actuators, connected to sensors placed along the leg. Sensors allow you to light the intentions to the movement and transmit the information to the implementers who thus support it. In fact, the device pushes the movement when needed, accompanies it, assisting the flexion of the hip, the scientists explain. And accompanying it makes it more fluid.
by Irma D’Aria
The test on the Parkinson’s patient
The Parkinson’s patient included in the study – and who experienced up to 10 episodes of freezing a day, relying on a scooter to get around – managed to wear the device, benefiting from it, without having been instructed or trained, the authors point out (here The video of tests). No episodes of freezing were observed in indoor settings, with walks slightly longer and faster than unassisted walking, the researchers explain. Even outdoors, on a sidewalk, the device showed its benefits, although freezing in this case was not completely absent, despite being very reduced. “The suit helps me take longer steps and when it’s not active I tend to drag my feet a lot more – he has declared the same patient, a seventy-three year old – It really helped me and I think it’s encouraging. He could help me walk longer and maintain my quality of life.”
by Simone Valesini
For now, however, the device remains an object of study, on which to concentrate research efforts and tests in the population to fully evaluate its effectiveness, usefulness (and feasibility) against the problem of freezing in the Parkinson’s population.