Parkinson’s disease slowly destroys the brain’s ability to control the muscles, depriving the patients of their mobility. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville, Florida, have developed a laser-based device that helps patients walk again.
Four years ago, Wayne Puckett could get around only in a wheelchair, because a form of Parkinson’s disease had damaged the connection between his brain and his leg muscles. “It is a hard thing to take and you feel like less of a person. You know, your kids, you are not able to do as much and they see it,” he said.
In 2010, neurologist Jay Van Gerpen, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, told Puckett about a device that would help him walk again. At first, Puckett did not believe him.
“He told me that he has a little red line that was going to be able to make me walk. I was like, ain't no way,” said Puckett.
Van Gerpen calls his device ‘the mobilaser.’ A laser, attached to a walker, generates a beam of light, which provides a visual cue for patients with difficulty walking, because of a neurological disease or brain trauma.
“There is a part of the brain when you want to initiate walking in the prefrontal cortex in the basal ganglia, and if those areas get damaged then those signals don't get to the primary motor cortex,” said Van Gerpen.
By watching the laser’s red line, the patient concentrates on a different task. That makes his brain send signals along a different path to the motor cortex, avoiding the damaged areas where those signals get jammed.
“We are capitalizing on the parts of the brain that are working quite well to help compensate for those that are not,” he said.
Van Gerpen said most of his patients improved their mobility, and Wayne Puckett said the mobilaser helped him get back his life.