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Study Shows Auditory Cues Could Help Parkinson's Disease Patients

Update Date: Sep 21, 2012 08:10 AM EDT

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, walking to a beat could be beneficial for patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, in which, shaking (tremors) make it difficult for the patient to walk.

For the study, Ervin Sejdic, an assistant professor of engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, along with a few other researchers, studied how metronomic stimuli (mechanically produced beat) affected fifteen healthy adults, aged between 18 and 30.

The participants were asked to walk with different cues for two sessions consisting of five 15-minute trials.

At first, participants were asked to walk at their speed. Then, in the following trials, they were asked to walk following a beat, visuals, sound or touch.  In the end, the participants were asked to follow all three cues at the same time and walk. The paces of the cues were set to the initial trial.

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

According to Sejdic, the biggest challenge for Parkinson's patients is for the doctor to be able to fully understand the changes which come along with the deterioration. With this study, the authors feel that giving visual cues for patients could be considered an alternative in rehabilitation and should also be further studied in the laboratories.

"Oftentimes, a patient with Parkinson's Disease comes in for an exam, completes a gait assessment in the laboratory, and everything is great," said Sejdic. "But then, the person leaves and falls down. Why? Because a laboratory is a strictly controlled environment. It's flat, has few obstacles, and there aren't any cues (like sound) around us. When we're walking around our neighborhoods, however, there are sidewalks, as well as streetlights and people honking car horns: you have to process all of this information together. We are trying to create that real-life space in the laboratory."

The researchers of the current study plan to conduct further studies with similar walking trials with patients of Parkinson's, along with studying the impact of music on runners and walkers.

"Can we see the same trends that we observed in healthy people?" he said. "And, if we observe the same trends, then that would have direct connotations to rehabilitation processes."

The study was published in the August issue of PLOS One.

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