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Home Robotics: Technology, News & Trends A Stride Towards Freedom: Soft Robots Liberate Parkinson’s Patients from Gait Challenges

A Stride Towards Freedom: Soft Robots Liberate Parkinson’s Patients from Gait Challenges

Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder often accompanied by motor impairments, with “gait freezing” being one of its symptoms. Patients may suddenly find themselves unable to take steps while walking, making them prone to falls and injuries, significantly impacting their quality of life.

Patient with soft robot overcoming gait freezing

Traditionally, the treatment for the “gait freezing” in Parkinson’s disease relies on medications, physical therapy, and surgery, but the efficacy is limited. Recently, a collaborative research team from Harvard University and Boston University published a groundbreaking achievement in the journal “Nature Medicine”: the successful use of a soft robotic exoskeleton to assist Parkinson’s patients in overcoming “gait freezing.”

This wearable soft robotic exoskeleton is equipped with sensors that can detect movement and use algorithms to estimate the walker’s gait. When signs of “gait freezing” appear, cable-driven actuators immediately provide assistance, helping patients complete the stepping motion.

Dr. Conor Walsh, a professor at Harvard University, stated, “In our study, this soft robotic exoskeleton only needs to provide minimal mechanical assistance to immediately improve the patient’s walking ability, showing consistent effects in various conditions.”

The researchers collaborated with a 73-year-old Parkinson’s patient who experienced “gait freezing” over a dozen times daily. After six months of research, Walsh’s team successfully eliminated the patient’s “gait freezing” indoors and significantly improved both walking distance and speed.

“The effects were immediate,” noted Harvard University, “Patients could walk indoors without any freezing, and outdoors, it would only occasionally occur. Additionally, to our surprise, patients could even talk while walking with the device, which was previously unimaginable.”

It’s worth noting that the team behind this technology had previously designed a robotic exoskeleton to assist stroke patients, successfully licensed to the startup company ReWalk Robotics. If the early results of this latest technology continue to validate, there is potential for future commercialization, offering new hope for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

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