Walking problems are a common problem for people with Parkinson’s. For many, as the condition advances, freezing of gait, also known as FOG, creates difficulty in walking forward, often resulting in a loss of balance or a fall. New shoes may be the answer.
Laser shoes are equipped with a light device at the front of the shoe that can project a laser line 18 inches out in front of the person wearing the shoes. This creates a focal point, something to literally show the way, which may facilitate the ability to move forward. The laser turns off when you are in motion. Developed and lab tested by Murielle Ferraye at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, laser shoes show great promise, but will need more testing in the everyday environment.1
Freezing of gait
Walking can be a problem for many people with PD as the disease is a neurodegenerative motor condition. People with Parkinson’s may experience difficulty walking when their legs just won’t move forward even though the upper body may remain in motion.2 There is a “brain disconnect” that can cause an imbalance and result in tripping or falling. Freezing can last minutes or seconds and make walking hazardous. You don’t always know when it is going to happen, so your brain is thinking walk and your feet don’t get the message.
FOG tends to occur more when people with PD allow their medication to wear off. “Medication on time, every time!”, a slogan of the Parkinson’s disease Foundation, reflects the importance of treatment to many aspects of your condition. Being careful to take your medications and lessen the “off time” may help you to reduce any difficulties with gait. Yet, some people will also experience FOG when they are under stress or in new surroundings where they are not sure how to navigate.
The lasers create visual cues that keep your attention and allow your concentration to remain on moving forward. Visual cueing with these specially equipped shoes was tested in the lab and found to be successful. Lines projected on the floor, created by movement in the opposite foot, give you direction to move. Some people already use this approach, without the lasers, by crossing the street where there is a striped crosswalk. They also put tiles or floorboards in their home where they can move over the lines with each successive step.3 Visual cueing is used in other aspects of PD as well, particularly when addressing memory and psychological issues. Lasers are a new application in this area.
A promising future
These laser shoes were effective in the lab setting even for people who were in the off cycle of their medication, demonstrating the effectiveness of cueing. The hope for the future would be that laser shoes could be activated when freezing of gait presents, not in use all the time.2 Further research is in development. In the meantime, you can try some of the visual line cues which activate your brain circuits to improve your balance when walking and perhaps ease any freezing of gait.1