Dr Conor Fearon, Research Registrar,
Freezing of gait is a disabling symptom which occurs in patients with parkinsonism where they feel as though their feet are momentarily glued to the floor. This can lead to falls, hospitalization and even mortality. Research is currently being undertaken at the Dublin Neurological Institute in order to better understand why freezing of gait occurs in these patients. This information will be used to develop a training tool for use in the home designed to reduce the frequency and severity of freezing episodes and improve overall gait in those patients affected by this problem.
The research is a collaboration between the Dublin Neurological Institute and the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering. The cause of freezing of gait is poorly understood and this is because its unpredictability makes it difficult to study. We have developed a system which allows us to provoke freezing of gait in order to study it. By stepping in place on a balance board and moving through a virtual reality corridor we are able to examine gait and brainwaves simultaneously in order to better understand why freezing of gait occurs. To date over 40 patients have participated in this study.
We have also commenced a training programme in an effort to improve freezing of gait. The programme consists of eight 20 minute sessions of stepping in place through a maze which is also focused on cognitive training. Twenty patients have completed this programme to date. Participants have found that they have improved confidence in walking and in some patients with severe freezing of gait, a temporary reduction in freezing.
We are continuing to recruit any patients with (idiopathic) Parkinson’s who experience freezing of gait at least once per week. We are also recruiting any patients with Parkinson’s disease who do not experience freezing of gait for comparison purposes.