In our work with families in Missouri and Illinois, we are finding an increasing number of people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). It has become the second most common type of neurodegenerative disorder in the U.S., whereas Alzheimer’s is the only neurodegenerative disease that affects more people. As PD progresses, it can make the activities of daily living from meal preparation to grooming more challenging. Even walking becomes difficult to manage.

For the one million people in this country who live with PD, a new laser device developed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville offers hope.

Difficulties of Walking for Parkinson’s Sufferers

One of the toughest challenges people with Parkinson’s will inevitably face is simply trying to walk. As the disease progresses, people with PD find themselves unable to control their own muscles. Their legs become more stiff which impairs their ability to extend their leg to walk.

This impairment is caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain. Without enough dopamine the basal area of the brain, which is responsible for automatic movement, becomes damaged. As a result, activities such as walking and standing up are greatly impacted.

A Mobile Laser Might Help Parkinson’s Patients Walk

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found a way to help by looking at what researchers as far back as the 1960s have noticed about Parkinson’s patients. That is, when people with PD followed visual cues such as white lines marked on a dark floor, they could lengthen their stride and walk more normally. The lines seemed to help patients overcome the deficits created by damage the disease causes on the basal ganglia area of the brain. It is believed this occurs because movements linked to visual cues are processed through the brain differently than the tasks we do automatically.

Dr. Van Gerpen and his team explored the idea of using a laser to imitate the line on the floor. They call their invention, “The Mobilaser.” It is a device that can be attached to a walker or a cane, using a laser to send a beam of light along the floor for patients to follow. This type of visual cue re-routes the signals in the brain. Instead of trying to use the damaged primary motor cortex of the brain to signal the body to walk, the laser’s red line gives the person a visual cue to follow. The task of following the red line sends the brain a different signal and utilizes an area of the brain that is still working well.

Video Shows How the Laser Device Helps a PD Patient Walk

While the device hasn’t worked for everyone, it has been successful for many. In this video, a patient at the Mayo Clinic walks with the help of the new laser attached to his walker. Before using the Mobilaser, this patient was confined to a wheelchair. Initially skeptical about a laser being able to help him walk, he is now a believer.

Need more information on how you can help your loved one who may have Parkinson’s disease? Contact us at ACM Care and we would be happy to help you.