Walking to a specific rhythm can be advantageous during rehabilitation for Parkinson’s Disease patients.

Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder characterized by tremors and difficulty walking. Eventually stiffness becomes prominent, muscles become weaker, and posture is affected. Many studies have recommended certain rehabilitation paths, acupuncture being one of them..

In a new study published in PLOS One, findings suggest further studies should be completed to investigate visual, auditory, and tactile signals and their role in rehabilitation.

A team of collaborators led by Ervin Sejdic, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh studied the effects of a mechanically produced beat using different stimuli, on 15 healthy adults ages 18 to 30. Participants took part in two separate sessions of five 15-minute trials in which they walked with different cues.

During the first session, participants walked at their own pace. Then, in later trials, the patients walked to a metronomic beat made by either visuals, touch or sound. Lastly, they walked with all three signals simultaneously with the pace that was set by the first trial.

Sejdic commented:

“We found that the auditory cue had the greatest influence on human gait, while the visual cues had no significant effect whatsoever. This finding could be particularly helpful for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, for example, as auditory cues work very well in their rehabilitation.

Regarding Parkinson’s Disease, there is a big question whether researchers can become better informed about changes that come with this deterioration. This study suggests visual signals could be considered as a substitute approach in rehabilitation and need to be explored additionally in the laboratory.

Sejdic explains that a large limitation to their studies is the confinement of the laboratory. With Parkinson’s Disease, patients can complete a walking test easily, and shortly thereafter, fall down in an outside environment. A real-life space will need to be created to account for sidewalks, streetlights, and noises such as cars honking, in order to obtain a more accurate gait measure (manner of walking).

In the future, Sejdic and his colleagues would like to investigate further with walking trials for patients with Parkinson’s Disease to observe whether their walking manner is more or less stable.

Sejdic concludes, “Can we see the same trends that we observed in healthy people? And, if we observe the same trends, then that would have direct connotations to rehabilitation processes.” Sejdic and his team also plan to study the impact of music on runners and walkers.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald