Auditory feedback makes walking easier

An Israeli researcher has developed an apparatus with auditory feedback that improves walking for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients.

Prof. Yoram Baram of the Faculty of Computer Science at the Technion-Israel institute of technology has developed an apparatus with auditory feedback that improves walking for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients.

The apparatus can also assist the gait of Parkinson’s disease patients. This is a new version of a virtual reality visual feedback apparatus developed by Prof. Baram some ten years ago, which improves walking by presenting the floor to patients as a checkerboard tile pattern.

Prof. Baram worked with Prof. Ariel Miller of the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and the Multiple Sclerosis and Brain Research Center at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, in examining the apparatus’ influence on the gait quality of MS patients. Their work was recently published in the important scientific journal “Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

“We discovered that auditory feedback significantly aids the gait of MS patients and also Parkinson patients, albeit somewhat less effectively for Parkinson patients,” says Prof. Baram.

“Auditory feedback helps the patient because gait quality is expressed through a series of sounds that a person hears while walking. Healthy people have other tools to control their walking, such as sensory feedback from muscles nerves, which reports on muscle control, telling them if they are using their muscles correctly or not. This feedback is damaged in Parkinson and MS patients and the elderly. Auditory feedback helps us walk at a fixed pace. 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.”

Prof. Baram says that the virtual reality visual feedback apparatus developed 10 years ago influences more stride length while the auditory apparatus influences walking speed.

Now that both devices have been integrated, the patient wears the visual feedback apparatus on his eyes and the earphones are connected to it. “Our findings also raise the possibility of understanding the processes that go on in the brain when processing the sensory information reaching it,” he adds.

The innovative apparatus is already being used at a number of medical centres in Israel and the US.