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 New auditory device makes walking easier for MS patients

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Date posted: 12/04/2007

Professor Yoram Baram, of Technion Institute in Israel has devised an auditory feedback system which enables patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) to improve their gait.

It was born a decade ago, as a VR audio/visual feedback unit, and has been updated in the past year, to reduce the dominance of the visual input, and concentrate on the audio.

"Our earlier system was based on a visual feedback device - this one is an auditory feedback device that has a visual element to it," he explained. "The apparatus we built is the size of a Walkman and is worn on a belt. It measures body movement, processes it using a computer and then sends a signal to the ears through earphones."

According to Baram, auditory feedback helps patients walk at a fixed pace because gait quality is expressed through a series of sounds that a person hears while walking.

"The user hears a ticking sound which is synchronised to his steps, rather than hearing a rhythm track and having to respond to it. Now he hears his own steps. If the patient doesn't have a balanced, steady walk, all he needs to do is produce his own rhythm as an auditory cue," he said.

"This feedback is damaged in Parkinson and MS patients and the elderly. Parkinson's results from the production of dopamine in the brain which affects muscle function, and MS develops when the patient's immune system attacks the white matter nerves in the brain," said Baram.

Needless to say, this means the device, designed to help MS patients, can also help Parkinson's disease patients walk better.

Together with Prof. Ariel Miller of the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and the Multiple Sclerosis and Brain Research Centre at the Carmel Medical Centre in Haifa, Baram examined the influence of the auditory/visual apparatus on the gait quality of MS patients. Their work was recently published in the important scientific publication, Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

In the study, on-line (device on) and residual short-term therapeutic effects on walking speed and stride length were measured in 14 randomly selected MS patients with gait disturbances. The results showed an average improvement of 12.84% on-line and 18.75% residually in walking speed. Average improvement in stride length was 8.30% on-line and 9.93% residually. According to Baram, the improvement results are particularly noteworthy when compared with the lack of change in healthy control subjects.

"Our findings also raise the possibility of understanding the processes that go on in the brain when processing the sensory information reaching it," he added.

See the full Story via external site: www.mfa.gov.il

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