AR can help Parkinson’s sufferers through ‘freezing’

People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease can feel a lot of social fear or shame with regards to their symptoms. A recent study by Parkinson’s UK found that 40% of sufferers feel the need to try and hid their symptoms in public.

The reasons behind this are not wanting to be embarrass others (63%), the fear of being judged (34%) or thinking that their symptoms are not socially acceptable (32%). The charity estimates that, with 127,000 people being affected by the disease in the UK, this could mean that 47,000 are actively trying to hide their symptoms from people.

One particular symptom that could exacerbate these feelings is ‘freezing’. This phenomenon occurs when a person’s limbs temporarily refuse to work in tandem with the brain, and it becomes very difficult to lift them or to move forward.

For many, the effect of freezing can be overcome by using visual, audio or vibratory cues to spur their body back into harmonious action. Now, a team of engineering students from Rice University has designed an AR mobile app that can provide a simple and effective way of providing the kind of cues needed to quickly deal with a freezing episode.

Discrete and simple

The app works by allowing the user to point their phone camera at the floor. AR tech is then used to overlay a circle or block that the user can target with their foot. This relatively simple visual cue, along with any audio or sensory cues that the user wants the app to make, is often enough to help the person re-establish their gait and go about their day.

There are already a number of devices available on the market to help people deal with freezing, but the students wanted to move to mobile in order to insure low cost.

“What’s cool about our project is that the cheapest solutions available right now are about $200, with some solutions costing as much as $3,000,” team member Jeremy David said. “Our solution, however, has the potential to work more effectively and at a fraction of the cost.”

The other major benefit of using a phone is the fact that the solution turns the user from someone struggling in public with a complicated disease, to just another member of the public staring at their phone.

“Another big criterion was social comfort,” team member Kristen Smith said. “We wanted it to be a very discreet solution.”

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