Improving the quality of life of people affected by Parkinson

To improve technological solutions that assist and enhance the quality of life of people with Parkinson's disease is the goal of the project “Freezing in Parkinson’s disease: Improving quality of life with an automatic control system”, the latest project to be implemented by the research centre Fraunhofer AICOS, in partnership with the Medical Centre Teknon and CETpD (a specialized research centre from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia).

The recently approved project has received a grant of three hundred thousand euros from the La Marató de TV3 Foundation to be used in the next three years. The research project is targeted toward people with Parkinson’s disease and intends to tackle freezing. It aims to optimise technological solutions of practical use for these patients, which have been under development by the project partners for about three years, and simultaneously assess the impact of this technology on their daily lives.

Led by the Medical Centre Teknon, this research project involves the participation of CETpD in the optimisation of sensors, and algorithms, and Fraunhofer AICOS will be responsible not only for developing the mobile technology but also studying the impact of the system on users’ quality of life.

Some of the problems that mostly affect the quality of life of people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease are associated with walking: loss of rhythm, delay, shuffling, and freezing. Freezing, which can also occur in speech, is closely related to the cognitive disorders that many of these patients present, and it responds poorly and irregularly to drug therapy and deep brain stimulation. To improve this, rhythmic sensory stimuli at frequencies related to the speed and cadence of the march will be used.

Due to Fraunhofer AICOS’s experience in developing technologies, easy to use, aiming to improve the quality of life and independence of people with chronic diseases, the research centre will be responsible for two areas of the project: on the one hand, the further development of innovative technological solutions (such as sensory stimuli as auditory cues) and, on the other hand, the evaluation of the results, i.e. the Fraunhofer AICOS will be responsible for analysing technology acceptance and the impact of these technologies on people's lives.

Together, the partners will work toward a main scientific objective, which is to test the effectiveness of an automatic system to aid mobility in Parkinson’s disease and assess whether its use in conjunction with the auditory cueing system can enhance people with Parkinson’s quality of life. To go about it, partners have laid out five specific objectives:

> Attaining a reliable detector of freezing of gait which combines movement sensors with signal processing and machine learning approaches;

> Accurately monitoring freezing of gait episode through an automatic system to aid mobility;

> Demonstrating the utility of the above mentioned system in overcoming freezing of speech;

> Identifying people with Parkinson’s disease with cognitive impairment subtypes that respond to the system;

> Demonstrating that the automatic system, along with the auditory cueing system, improves people with Parkinson’s quality of life.

The financing program from Fundació La Marató de TV3 2013 has allocated € 11 million to 44 projects in neurodegenerative research, led by 79 scientists, including the project developed by Fraunhofer AICOS in partnership with the Teknon Medical Centre and CETpD.

This is not the first or only project developed by Fraunhofer AICOS with regards to Parkinson’s disease. Since it is a topic of interest for the research centre, other projects have been developed within this scope. One of such examples is REMPARK, a European project which brings together 11 partners from 8 different countries to develop a personal health device for the remote and autonomous management of Parkinson’s disease.