William & Mary researchers working on new device to help Parkinson’s patients

Health

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A new piece of technology could give Parkinson’s patients their independence back. Researchers at William & Mary are using artificial intelligence to lessen symptoms of the neurodegenerative disease.

It’s called the “UltiGesture” — a small piece of technology that can be strapped to a person’s ankle.

“We utilize two devices to deal with freezing of gait,” said Gang Zhou, a computer science professor at William & Mary.

Freezing of gait is when a person is in the process of walking forward but their legs stop moving — often causing them to fall and even injure themselves. One device, the Ultigesture, tracks a person’s gait and the other, VibeForward, uses vibration therapy to keep patients moving so they don’t have a falling spell. When used in conjunction, the devices can lessen the effect of freezing of gait symptoms.

Zhou tells 10 On Your Side their UltiGesture device can record a person’s movement 24/7 and sends their results to a cell phone app.

“Wherever a patient goes, goes home, outside, we can monitor seamlessly. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Zhou explained.

It’s a project that’s especially personal for researcher Ken Koltermann. Koltermann is a third-year Ph.D. candidate working alongside Zhou. His late grandmother suffered from Parkinson’s.

“It was really bad watching her try to eat because her hands were shaking and when we would go out with her, like go out to the market she would periodically freeze and one of us would have to stay close to her so she could grab onto our arms if she felt like she was going to fall,” Koltermann recalled.

While the team still has a way to go with their research, the goal is for the UltiGesture device to eventually be on the market and be used by Parkinson’s patients.

The device costs about $10.

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