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Northumbria University researchers help people with Parkinson’s to walk

A therapy technique pioneered and evaluated for use in the home setting by researchers at the University of Northumbria in collaboration with researchers in The Netherlands and Belgium, is helping people with Parkinson’s to walk. The technique, which uses auditory and visual cues, has been shown to improve the gait and balance of people with Parkinson’s and is today being used by individuals with Parkinson’s and physiotherapists across the globe.

The part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s is responsible for coordinating complex sequences of movement, such as walking. It should generate internal cues for each stage of the movement, regulating timing and size of movement. Problems in this area of the brain mean that people with Parkinson’s can find their steps becoming smaller, their walking slower and they may find they begin to shuffle or freeze on the spot. Distractions like talking can make it difficult to concentrate on walking at the same time.

The group, which included Anna Jones and Katherine Baker from Northumbria’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, found that cues can be used to help patients focus their attention on walking so that it is easier to keep their feet moving while walking. Cues, such as lines on the ground or beats from a metronome, allow them to use other areas of the brain that are not affected by Parkinson’s disease, making movement a more normal speed and easier for short periods of time.

The project, called ‘Rehabilitation in Parkinson’s Disease: Strategies for Cueing’ (RESCUE), contributed high-quality research trial data to the evidence base for physiotherapy. This has been incorporated into systematic reviews and guidelines. A CD-ROM about cueing therapy designed for physiotherapists and information sheets about cueing for patients and carers are available from the project website. These resources are now being used to train health and social care staff, as well as by patients in their own homes. Copies of the CD-ROM have been sold to therapists in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and Australasia.

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