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New Laser Device Helps Parkinson's Patients Walk

New Laser Device Helps Parkinson's Patients Walki
February 01, 2014 12:32 AM
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. VOA’s George Putic has more.
New Laser Device Helps Parkinson's Patients Walk
George Putic
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.

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
February 15, 2014 8:59 AM
Does this work for TBI patients who can't walk?

by: toni chiara
February 14, 2014 1:00 PM
this is NOT new - a walker with a laser and a cane with a laser have been available for at least the past 5 years- the walker is known as the U-walker (available with or without the laser) AND the company has a cane with a laser. HOWEVER BOTH HAVE THE SAME ISSUE - THE PATIENT NEEDS TO LOOK AT THE LASER, WHICH CAUSES THEIR EYES TO BE LOOKING AT THE FLOOR INSTEAD OF LOOKING AHEAD - WHICH IS THE CORRECT POSTURE!!
In Response

by: Jonathan Miller from: Skokie IL
February 24, 2014 6:30 PM
Toni is right that we have been making laser walkers and canes for years - actually over ten years. Given the dramatic benefit of reducing Parkinson freezing and falls, looking down isn't as big of an issue. Please see the European Rescue study that concluded that looking down to use the laser walker is OK given the dramatic benefit to the patient in being able to walk safely. My beef with this article is that the Mayo Clinic is acting like they found something new, when we have been making this product for years.

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