NUI Galway is developing a suite of unobtrusive, wearable electronic devices to help manage the debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease, referred to as Freezing of Gait.
The first generation of the system resulted from NUI Galway’s involvement in the €4.7 million European FP7 project, REMPARK, which had 11 partners across Europe including NUI Galway. As part of this project, the University has developed a novel wearable electronic device, called ‘cueStim’, designed to prevent or relieve Freezing of Gait, which is commonly described by people with Parkinson’s, as a feeling as if their feet are stuck or glued to the floor preventing them from moving forward.
Dr Leo Quinlan, lecturer in Physiology at the School of Medicine in NUI Galway, and the project’s Co-Principal Investigator, said: “The severity of Freezing of Gait depends on the stage of the disease and it can have a very severe impact on quality of life, affecting people with Parkinson’s ability to walk for extended periods of time and is a common cause of falls in Parkinson’s disease.”
The Human Movement Laboratory at the CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway is currently working to further enhance the technology, particularly in the area of usability and human factors through the project ‘EScapeFOG’. To achieve this goal, NUI Galway is partnering with Parkinson’s support groups to test and evaluate the usability and human factors of the system.
Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin, Professor of Electronic Engineering in the School of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway, and project Co-Principal Investigator commented: “We are using what is referred to as a User Centred Design methodology, to ensure that the developed technology meets the needs of the intended users. This involves testing all aspects of the system with the Parkinson’s community and seeking their feedback on its usability throughout the design process.”
The Human Movement Laboratory at NUI Galway is currently involved in a very effective collaboration with the Clare Parkinson’s Support Group on enhancing the design of the cueStim system, to more effectively meet the needs of people with Parkinson’s using this technology. A recent usability and human factors workshop held at the University was attended by 16 members of the Clare Parkinson’s Support Group.
T.J. Waters, PRO for the Clare Parkinson’s Support Group, said: “The opportunity to view at first hand the research being undertaken to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s was an experience not to be missed. Clare Parkinson’s Support Group members are delighted to have an active role in this exciting project, which will be of benefit ultimately to people with Parkinson’s throughout the world.”
Any person wishing to participate in future studies involving this device can contact Dean Sweeney, the system’s lead designer at: [email protected] and 089-2576449.
The research was part-funded by the European Commission under the FP7 programme and Science Foundation Ireland.