Can rhythm help people with Parkinson’s disease

This is a proposal for a series of research studies related to a device for assisting people with Parkinson’s disease. For some background, have a look at the description of the device.

An interesting and informative research project could be conceived on a fairly small scale, and enlarged as time went by and more data accrued. I can imagine that the first stage of the research would suit an honours project in human movement, occupational therapy, bioengineering or psychology.

First, discover whether auditory pulses can assist those people who have difficulty in initiating voluntary movement. I have mentioned people with Parkinson’s disease, but there are other groups of people with similar difficulties. The first experiment would probably need no more equipment than a sound generator for producing a pulsed tone, and perhaps a method of enhancing the rhythmic quality of the sound (either by changes in volume, pitch, or timbre). Even if the method does not help all patients, is it capable of helping some of them.

The second stage might be an exploration of different sorts of stimulus (auditory, visual, tactile) to determine whether some sensory modalities worked better than others, and to discover the kinds of changes in each (e.g., amount of pressure in the case of tactile stimuli, or colour changes in the case of visual stimuli) that worked best as an indicator of rhythm.

Later experiments might explore the extent to which stimuli could be optimized for individual patients, whether different stimuli were maximally effective for different movements (walking, washing, chewing, etc.), the production of a small programmable device, and the inclusion of voice activation of the different stimulus combinations.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond