The Latest Innovative Devices Helping Those with Parkinson’s

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, there are as many as one million Americans living with the central nervous system disorder, with another 60,000 people in the US diagnosed each year. Although there is no cure yet, creative applications of new technology in recent years have made significant strides in helping to diagnose the disease and mitigate its symptoms.

Smart Cutlery Counteracts Tremors

One gadget which has made a significant splash is the Liftware, launched in 2013 and acquired by Alphabet’s research arm in 2014. The stabilizing handle with spoon and fork attachments uses sensors and motors to counteract 76% of the tremors of afflicted individuals, enabling them to eat independently with comfort and confidence.

The Liftware stabilizing handle in action

Similarly, a startup named Gyenno Technologies launched a stabilizing spoon and fork in January 2016, which claim to counteract an impressive 85% of tremors. The award-winning products collect data about tremors as they are used, which enables the device to “learn” how it can perform better for its owner. Additionally, the data from all users is compiled into substantial databases for doctors and scientists to use in their research.

Demonstration of the Gyenno Technologies spoon

Keeping Pace with Clever Cane

Parkinson’s patients also sometimes suffer from seizing joints, which can lead to stumbles and falls. When Neha Shahid Chaudhry noticed the symptom in her grandfather, she was inspired to invent Walk to Beat, a smart walking stick which emits a pulsating beat in 2014. As Chaudhry explains, “people with Parkinson’s get jammed in one place and can’t step forward – it can cause falls. They need any kind of rhythm or sequence to get them started again, because it acts as a reminder. The beat is inside the handle – it senses when you stop and turns off automatically when you start walking again. Patients say it encourages them to walk and they learn to pace with it.”


Walk to Beat founder Neha Shahid Chaudhry with her smart walking stick

Wearable Devices Bring New Insights

While devices such as these are a significant boon to Parkinson’s patients’ dignity, other initiatives are helping to better identify the disease, track its progression, and hopefully provide some insights towards a cure.

Irish medical technology company Medtronic has delivered significant improvements to patients with movement disorders through Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy since 1995. DBS works by being surgically implanted in the brain to deliver precisely targeted electrical stimulation, and this past February the US FDA approved Medtronic’s Activa SC DBS system to include a broader swath of Parkinson’s patients.

ActivaPC+S Illustration

Illustration of Medtronic’s Activa SC DBS system

Dr. Gerald J. Calegan, a neurologist in Baton Rouge, LA who has used Activa SC for DBS in hundreds of patients explains: “Patients who get DBS relatively early take less medicine, seem to progress slower, have better quality of life scores, and can work longer, compared to those without DBS. It is truly remarkable to be able to literally ‘flip a switch’ and see the tremors, stiffness, and slowness from years of Parkinson’s instantly melt away. Many patients are brought to tears when the device is turned on.”

Similarly, a pair of students from the University of Pennsylvania launched XEED this summer, to create wearables for Parkinson’s patients. The system is a network of sensor-equipped wearable devices, which patients wear to monitor their activity in between physical therapy sessions. This data can then be used to track progress, assess treatment regimes, and set goals.

As XEED co-founder Alfredo Muniz explains of the science behind their invention, “People with Parkinson’s have trouble controlling their movements because their brains don’t produce enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine, but a way to get around that is to really force your body to do more than it’s used to doing. That produces more dopamine, and it becomes easier. But there’s currently no objective way to measure those movements in physical therapy.”


XEED founders Sade Oba and Alfredo Muniz

These devices, and many others like them, demonstrate the growing promise of new technology in curbing the painful symptoms of disease. Though a cure remains to be found, the insights these devices bring to research may bring it that much closer to reality.


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