Most of the treatments for Parkinson’s are powerful pills designed to stop the tremors, and restore a stable gait. Many with Parkinson’s say they feel like their feet are stuck to the floor when they try to walk. Falls are common and life threatening. So, Dutch and Australian scientists, funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, are now developing special socks that could be a breakthrough.
The socks vibrate rhythmically and alternate between each arch, which researchers hope “cue” the brain circuitry to “tell” the feet to step, bypassing the damaged parts of the brain that impede walking. Right now, the doctors are evaluating 40 patients, but already report marked improvements in patients who went from shuffling, to moving their feet much more naturally. The patient controls the speed of the vibrations through an app, and can wear the socks with a normal shoe. Best of all, the socks cannot be seen by anyone, an issue that prevents some Parkinson’s patients from trying other wearable technologies, like earplugs and laser guided shoes.
The prototype socks may not work on Parkinson’s patients with cognitive decline. And it’s still too soon to say if the socks have successful or long term effects. But the hope is that an affordable, non-invasive, and drug-free therapy that uses artificial intelligence can restore mobility and independence. Research continues, with hopes that it will lead to clinical trials.