Electrical Stimulation Restores Parkinson's Patients' Walking Ability

An implant that electrically stimulates the spine restored the Parkinson's disease patients' ability to walk, researchers say.

A quarter of Parkinson's patients have difficulty walking as the disease progresses, often freezing in place and falling.

The Canadian researchers said that previously housebound patients who received the implant are now able to walk more freely, BBC News reported.

The benefits to the patients are beyond the "wildest dreams," of Mandar Jog, Western University in London, Ontario.

"Most of our patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years," Jog told BBC News. "For them to go from being home-bound, with the risk of falling, to being able to go on trips to the mall and have vacations is remarkable for me to see."

When walking, our brain sends instructions to the legs to move, and then receives signals back when the movement has been completed before sending instructions for the next step, BBC News reported.

In people with Parkinson's, there is a reduction in signals returning to the brain, breaking the loop and causing the person to freeze, according to Jog.

The implant boosts the signal so that the patient can walk normally, BBC News reported.

"This is a completely different rehabilitation therapy," Jog said. "We had thought that the movement problems occurred in Parkinson's patients because signals from the brain to the legs were not getting through.

"But it seems that it's the signals getting back to the brain that are degraded."

Scans revealed that before receiving the implant, brain areas that control movement were not working properly in the Parkinson's patients. Those areas were restored a few months into treatment, BBC News reported.

"The results seen in this small-scale pilot study are very promising and the therapy certainly warrants further investigation," said Beckie Port, research manager at Parkinson's UK.

"Should future studies show the same level of promise, it has the potential to dramatically improve quality of life, giving people with Parkinson's the freedom to enjoy everyday activities," she told BBC News.

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