Electrical Spine Implants Get Parkinson’s Patients Up and Walking

More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disorder that can cause tremors, issues with movement, limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems

More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disorder that can cause tremors, issues with movement, limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems. As the disease becomes more severe, the sufferer’s ability to walk becomes more and more impaired, oftentimes causing them to become homebound.

 

“Most of our patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years,” Professor Mandar Jog of Canada’s Western University told BBC News.

 

Jog believes Parkinson’s disease causes a break in the signal loop that occurs when walking. Instead of the brain signaling the legs to move and then receiving a signal that the movement has been completed and it’s time to take another step, there is a disconnect, which causes the patient to freeze. To remedy this, Jog and his colleagues developed a spinal implant that electrically stimulates the spinal cord, boosting the signal between the spinal cord and the brain.

 

In a small pilot study, reported in the journal Movement Disorders, the team inserted the stimulator into five men who suffered from gait disturbances and freezing as a result of Parkinson’s. After six months, they found that step length, walking speed, and the ability to stand from sitting improved by 39%, 42% and 50% respectively. Their confidence in their abilities also increased dramatically - by 71%. The team also found that after that same six month time frame, the participants didn’t experience any instances of frozen gait and there were no adverse side effects reported.

 

“For them to go from being homebound, with the risk of falling, to being able to go on trips to the mall and have vacations is remarkable for me to see,” Jog said.

 

While additional larger and longer-lasting clinical studies will need to be conducted, those who have received the implant are more than thrilled with the results.

 

“I haven’t fallen since I started the treatment, 66-year-old Gail Jardine told BBC News. “It’s given me more confidence and I’m looking forward to taking more walks with Stan and maybe even go on my own.”