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See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 5

Could a Simple Ankle Sensor Help with Parkinson’s Symptoms?

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COURTESY OF U.S. PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE

Method and device to manage freezing of gait in patients suffering from a movement disorder: Imagine walking down the hall, when suddenly your legs refuse to take another step. Up to 60 percent of people with Parkinson's disease regularly experience such freezing of gait (FOG) episodes, which can lead to falls and serious injuries. “Some patients describe the feeling as having their feet glued to the floor,” says Emil Jovanov, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Current treatments are not always effective, so Jovanov and his colleagues are developing a device that alleviates FOG with sensory cues, which have been shown to improve symptoms.

Patent no. 8,409,116 describes the device, which relies on sensors that might be embedded in a shoe or attached to the ankle. As soon as the system senses a freeze-up, it wirelessly transmits an auditory cue (such as the word “walk”) to an earpiece, prompting the patient to keep moving. The device is still in development, but the researchers hope to bring it to market in the next few years.

This article was originally published with the title "Patent Watch."

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