Student-designed walking stick could aid Parkinson’s patients

A product design technology graduate has developed a ‘smart’ walking stick that could help increase the mobility of Parkinson’s sufferers.

Neha Shahid Chaudhry was inspired to create Walk to Beat after seeing her late grandfather struggle with the disease. The device uses a sensor to detect when a user’s limbs have frozen, then prompts him or her to continue walking via a small vibration in the handle that helps reestablish rhythm.

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“People with Parkinson’s get jammed in one place and can’t step forward – it can cause falls,” said 23-year-old Neha. “They need any kind of rhythm or sequence to get them started again, because it acts as a reminder. The beat is inside the handle – it senses when you stop and turns off automatically when you start walking again. Patients say it encourages them to walk and they learn to pace with it.”

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Originally from Pakistan, Neha is currently studying for a master’s degree in marketing at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). Walk to Beat is being supported through the technology incubator at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and has received a £15,000 grant from UWE Bristol’s Better Together Fund in order to bring Neha’s concept to fruition.

The UK alone has around 127,000 people who suffer from Parkinson’s, and roughly half of these experience joint freezing that can seriously hamper their ability to walk. Walk to Beat has already been tested on dozens of patients, and the device has garnered attention from both the NHS and Parkinson’s UK.

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“There isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s – medication just prolongs the condition and helps you stay alive for longer,” said Neha. “My aim is to make their lives a bit better while they are dealing with it.”

“When I gave the product to patients to be tested, there were smiles on their faces and they were saying ‘This could really work’. It seems unbelievable that I have made something which could help people, even if it is to a small extent.”