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Harvard’s robotic wearable device improves walking for people with Parkinson’s

Soft robotic, wearable device improves walking for individual with Parkinson’s disease

A team of researchers from Harvard and Boston University has developed a soft, wearable robot that can effectively combat freezing, a debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease. This device, worn around the hips and thighs, delivers gentle pushes to the hips as the leg swings, helping patients achieve longer strides and maintain a smooth gait.

In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers tested the device on a 73-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease who experienced frequent freezing episodes, causing him to fall multiple times a day. After wearing the robot garment, the patient’s freezing episodes were virtually eliminated indoors and significantly reduced outdoors. He also reported an improved ability to walk and talk without freezing.

The device’s effectiveness stems from its gentle and adaptable nature. Unlike rigid exoskeletons, the soft robotic garment seamlessly integrates with the wearer’s natural gait, providing just enough support to overcome freezing episodes without hindering mobility. This approach has the potential to significantly improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients, allowing them to enjoy greater independence and mobility.

The researchers believe that this robotic innovation could also pave the way for a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of freezing, a symptom that remains poorly understood. By monitoring the patient’s response to the device, researchers can gain valuable insights into the neural pathways and motor control issues that contribute to freezing episodes.

This study represents a significant step forward in the development of assistive technologies for Parkinson’s disease. The soft robotic garment offers a non-invasive and effective means of combating freezing, restoring mobility and independence to patients who have struggled with this debilitating symptom.

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