Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease that primarily affects our motor systems, the key processing system that allows us to interact with the world around us.
No scientist or researcher has been able to determine the cause of Parkinson’s yet, but believe that it has something to do with genetics triggered by environmental factors. Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 10 million people worldwide, and one million of those people are within the United States. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year. No two people experience Parkinson’s disease the same way, but for many, the symptoms overlap.
Some of the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s involve issues with walking and eating- two of the skills that are most taken for granted in daily life. Early on, many people who have not yet been diagnosed will notice small changes, like a slight tremor, sudden loss of smell, constipation, and unexplained stiffness when moving or walking around. As time goes on, the cells that make dopamine in the brain are more and more impaired by the progression of the disease, which affects the body’s ability to feel pleasure, and control our movements and emotional response.
At this time, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s means that eventual disability and loss of mobility is inevitable. However, there are lots of new technology tools that are helping people with Parkinson’s improve their quality of life and exercise their independence much longer than previously expected. These tools take advantage of the enormous technological advances that we’ve made over the last few decades and have been able to vastly improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s. Even a simple thing like a weighted spoon can mean the difference between eating independently and relying on someone else.
Parkinson’s disease means a huge change in your life, but with these technologies, it is now possible to retain mobility and independence many years after your diagnosis. Here are a few of the most exciting and innovative technologies that have shown real promise.
SpeechVive is an in-ear device that helps people speak louder and more clearly, especially in places that are busy with background noise. Many people with Parkinson’s disease experience speech-related symptoms, such as stuttering, and a much lower than normal speaking volume. It’s also common to be unable to produce clear speech on a regular basis and feel like your speech is either extremely slow or very fast.
SpeechVive looks exactly like a hearing aid and sits discretely in your ear. It works by playing an inoffensive background sound in your ear as you speak, and as you hear the stimuli, you naturally speak up louder and with more articulation. Then, as you stop speaking, the background noise immediately turns off. It seems simple, but it’s really effective.
To try out a SpeechVive device, you’ll need to meet with a speech-language pathologist, and they’ll get you set up with a trial device, which they will calibrate to your exact speech pattern. Once it’s set up, it’s very easy to use.
Revolar is a safety device that looks just like normal jewelry, but is able to connect to an app, and if pressed immediately sends out your location to either trusted contact or emergency medical personnel. It doesn’t look like a typical “panic button” as they come in two discrete and beautiful options for silver lockets that fit around the Revolar device, inlaid with either turquoise or mother-of-pearl.
Revolar works through an app which you install on your phone — it’s compatible with most iPhone and Android smartphones — which allows you to program in contacts, change your information and security settings, and customize your alert messages. Then, all you need to do is carry the small button around with you and use it to either check in with your trusted contacts or send an alert that notifies your contacts and emergency services that you’re in need of assistance. It’s small, discrete, and can help maintain independence.
It’s priced at either $39.99 or $79.99, depending on the model you choose.
Technology company Active Protective has recently put out a new personal safety belt that has been shown to be effective in protecting people from sudden falls. Many people with Parkinson’s disease have issues maintaining stability, and often feel unbalanced or unstable.
Smart Belt is a new device that fits securely around your hips and will deploy an airbag immediately before impact if it senses a fall is imminent. This protection is designed to prevent broken hips, and studies have shown that it reduces the impact of a fall by 90 percent. The technology found in the belt is highly accurate at detecting falls. Using a protocol called “motion in context,” it is so accurate that it can help increase your confidence, and make you feel more secure on your own two feet.
The Smart Belt is currently available for preorder.
Path Finder is truly the next generation of assistive devices. It’s a simple device that attaches to the toes of your shoes and provides visual cues in the form of green laser lines which are helpful to people who feel unsteady on their feet. Many people with Parkinson’s experience freezing of gait, which is a symptom of the disease that makes people feel as if they’re glued to the floor.
The Path Finder uses visual cues to help people know where to put their feet. It basically marks out each step, so even people with freezing of gait can move with confidence. The lasers can be adjusted manually so they match the natural length of your steps.
Currently, the Path Finder is only available in Europe, but the company will ship anywhere in the world. It retails for around $460 USD.
Although it may look like a simple back brace, Calibrace is so much more than a simple assistive device. It’s been shown to actually improve posture and balance long-term, instead of just functioning as a temporary measure. It’s designed for people experiencing neuromuscular disorders, including those that stem from Parkinson’s disease.
University-regulated studies of the device have shown that nine out of 10 people who have used the Calibrace experience postural improvements and felt more secure standing and walking. The Calibrace is made of breathable fabric interwoven with thin aluminum rods which support the brace without adding weight.
This device can be purchased by anyone but is also covered by Medicare.
Eatwell is a set of tableware that was created by a young designer named Sha Yao, and although it seems like just an ordinary set of flatware and dishes, Yao designed it specifically for people with cognitive, motor, and physical impairments.
The dishes are made of bright colors, which has been proven to stimulate the appetite, and are slanted on the bottom to allow for easier scooping of food. The spoons match the curve of the bowl and plate exactly and feature a curved shank to make them easier to grip, and a special head that won’t move even if jarred by hand tremors. All the dishes are equipped with anti-tip features, including a secure, rubberized base.
You can buy each piece separately, or the full set for $110.