Booby-trapped obstacle course prevents Parkinson’s falls

A purpose-built walkway is helping people with Parkinson’s stay on their feet.

A training program to help people with Parkinson’s disease to avoid falling is underway, and it’s showing promising results.

Researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have been using a purpose-built walkway to help people living with Parkinson’s stay on their feet.

Professor Stephen Lord

While the research project is ongoing, the experts have already completed a study of their reactive balance training program on older adults, which showed a 60 per cent reduction in falls due to slips and trips.

The findings are published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

The reactive step training focuses on creating new neural networks, or retraining the brain to respond faster to prevent falls.

Participants, supported by a safety harness, walk along a purpose-built pathway that contains a series of booby traps – sliding tiles create a slip and boards spring up to cause a trip.

“The walkway looks normal, but underneath is where the high-tech work is,” says Professor Stephen Lord from NeuRA.

“If you lift up the decking board it looks like something Q would develop from James Bond.”

In a study called SAFE-PD, NeuRA is replicating the slip-and-trip study to reduce the risk of falling in people with Parkinson’s. Currently they have 20 volunteers and they’re seeking a total of 40 people.

Stimulating brain and muscles

Professor Lord says there have been improvements in the balance of the participants with Parkinson’s disease taking part in the program.

“There are some positive signs to indicate that our new stepping program using the exercise game and slips paradigm may be effective in preventing falls in people with Parkinson’s disease,” says Professor Lord.

Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological disorder in the world. More than 80,000 people are living with the disease in Australia and this is expected to double by 2040.

About two in three people living with Parkinson’s disease will tumble this year. These falls can have extremely serious consequences, including disability and death.

Participants first train for one to two hours per week at home using a special step mat that is connected to their TV or computer.

“The games are designed to stimulate the brain, muscle, balance and improve quick stepping in desired directions,” says Dr Yoshiro Okubo, lead author of the paper in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

The participants are then invited to undertake reactive balance training using the walkway at NeuRA.

NeuRA is seeking volunteers with Parkinson’s disease who live in Sydney.

For more informatoin contact Paulo Pelicioni on or 02 9399 1024.

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