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WalkBand - A device for Parkinson's patients to make their daily lives easier by reducing imbalance and the rate of falls.

The WalkBand is a vibrating device that provides a cue for Parkinson's patients to overcome freezing of gait and improve gait mechanics.

Photo of Melody
28 12

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

The WalkBand is designed for Parkinson's patients (avg. onset at age 60) who have difficulty with freezing of gait and reduced stride length. Freezing of gait is a temporary inability to move, causing balance problems. Stride length is also decreased, leading to imbalance and increased falls. The WalkBand is a vibrational cue device that can be worn at the wrist or clipped onto other areas of clothing on the body that helps patients overcome freezing and increase their stride length.

The WalkBand is designed for Parkinson's patients who have difficulty with freezing of gait or stride length problems. Parkinson’s patients have reduced levels of dopamine, which causes motor deficits. Medications can be very effective to address most symptoms of Parkinson’s, but does not always fix freezing of gait or stride length. 

Freezing of gait is a temporary, involuntary inability to move. It feels like your feet are stock. It often happens in narrow quarters, stopping and starting, turning, and during timed tasks. This freezing can be hazardous due to the increased possibility of losing balance and falling. It causes anxiety and discomfort, and most cue options available on the market are very expensive, bulky, and inconvenient.  Parkinson's also causes shuffling and reduced stride length. Vibrational feedback has been shown to change gait mechanics (reduce shuffling, increase stride length), resulting in decreased imbalance and falls.

The WalkBand is a discreet device that provides vibrational feedback (with an easily accessible on and off button) to serve as a external cue to overcome the freezing and increase stride length. When they are about to experience a freeze situation, or are in a freeze situation, they can tap to turn on the device, which vibrates at the patient's ideal walking pace. This helps the patient unfreeze and starting walking again. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We have talked to a physical therapist specializing in Parkinson's, Parkinson's medical researchers at Penn Hospital doing a study on vibration cues, and a co-founder of a Parkinson's rehabilitation center in Philadelphia. We will be talking to Parkinson's patients about the device and will have patients try the device to see if they have improvement during freezing of gait situations and improved stride length.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We would love feedback on the IDEO community on ways to compact our device, as well as improvements of the user experience (putting on the device with the difficulties/symptoms associated with Parkinson's, turning the device on and off). We would love feedback from those in the OpenIDEO community with experience in the medical field, as well as those who have personal insight into Parkinson's patient needs.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 4 months - 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration

Tell us about your work experience:

Melody is a former transactional attorney and a current MBA student at the Wharton School. Haimin is a mechanical engineer and currently a Master of Integrated Product Design student at University of Pennsylvania. We are both currently enrolled in a Smart Design course at University of Pennsylvania

28 comments

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Photo of Carla Diana
Team

I'm so proud to see this team take this from a class project into something that can become real outside of class. The concept is very promising, and it's worth pursuing through deeper research.

Photo of Karen Yeung
Team

This is such a great project! I think the device is so well designed - sleek and elegant. I especially like the design of the band. I'm glad that you guys have also thought through the user experience of putting this device on / taking it off. Often there are very well designed wearables that are impossible to actually put on! Good job!

Photo of Althea Simons
Team

Very cool project Melody! The concept is really well researched and thought out. The only thing I can think of is that some people might like different colors! I'm especially thinking of women – it might make it a little more fun for them. Great work! :)

Photo of Melody
Team

Thank you! We designed the latest iteration of the prototype to fit with the Apple iWatch wristbands - hopefully this allows users to switch out to wristbands with colors and styles that appeal to the user without having to get it from us :-). We're also hoping to have a clip version in the next iteration of the prototype, which would allow users to clip it on to existing wristwatches, etc for them to embrace their current style. We would love to offer the device in different colors though - we haven't done enough research as to preferences as to color of device and we definitely will!

Photo of Althea Simons
Team

Awesome! You've thought of everything :)

Photo of Grace
Team

This idea is really exciting to see -- I love the idea of integrating habit change into Parkinson's patients' lives in a discreet way. It reminds me a bit of Pensa's One Drop monitor in terms of its sleek take on a medical device. Have you looked into analogous products like Ringly or Fitbit? I'd be curious to see how future iterations of the form could be personalized to fit into users' personal style.

Photo of Haimin
Team

Thanks, Grace! The One Drop is an inspirational example of a medical device whose sleek style de-stigmatizes the medical condition it addresses. The form of our device is far from final, and we'll definitely bear in mind how to maintain its discreet and sleek nature as we continue to develop it.

Photo of Danielle
Team

Have you done any testing/research that indicates that the wrist is the most effective location to experience the vibration? Given everything your hands touch and interact with, the vibration could get conflated with other sensations.

Photo of Haimin
Team

Thanks for your question! We met with a doctor that's a Movement Disorder Fellow at the Pennsylvania Hospital, and he's also conducting a clinical study on the effectiveness of vibration as a cue for preventing and overcoming freezing of gait. In his study, he's found that most of his patients (~ 90%), when given the freedom to apply vibration anywhere, prefer to apply vibration to their wrist.

However, we realize this is only anecdotal evidence so far and want to remain open to the possibility that there are more appropriate locations to be applying haptic cues. To that end, we're planning on adding a feature to the band that would allow it be clipped to parts of the body that aren't the wrist.

Photo of Mayra Ivelisse Rodriguez
Team

Hey! Have you conisdered desgning a product that can sense when a person is moving and when not in montion vibrate in exchange, instead of someone having to click on it. Or maybe sensing a persons change in heart rate can be the sensor that can be applied. I think making the vibrationg automatic through a sensory method could be very practical. Look forward in seeing you develop the project!

Photo of Melody
Team

Hi Mayra,

We thought about an auto-turn on device, but we realized that patients wouldn't need the vibration on at all times since some patients may want it only for freeze situations (and some only for specific situations since triggers are different per patient) and some would want it to increase stride length. We figured having the ability to turn off and turn off easily (via wristband or wherever they would want to put the device) would allow them to choose when they needed the assistance and access it easily.

A sensory method (via heart rate) may be interesting to explore. It looks like there might be some studies showing linkage of freezing of gait to changes in heart rate (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20721914, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0106561). I think one thing that we would have to address/explore more is how to distinguish heart rate changes due to freezing of gait vs. due to desired experiences (walking faster, lifting objects), because it might trigger the vibration when it's not needed. We're definitely going to look into this further. Thank you!!

Photo of Etienne Ma
Team

Agree with both of you – it'd definitely be interesting to see if there was a way for the vibration to be actuated automatically, without deliberate effort on the patient's end. I have to imagine that it can be a stressful moment for patients, so removing as many stressors as we can to streamline the process should make it more effective.

Heart rate's definitely one potential trigger. Maybe there are other triggers like weather, or time of day where episodes are likelier to occur as well?

If the device could act more like a FitBit and track some of that data, it might even be able to use historical data to more accurately identify when these freezing moments occur. And perhaps the long term vision is for the device to actually get smarter and better at identifying these freezing moments the longer patients wear it.

Photo of Gaute Nordby
Team

I think it sounds like this has a great opportunity to be helpful for a lot of people. Are you planning on making it smaller or does the size of the device help the patient to use it?

Photo of Melody
Team

We would like to make the device slimmer height-wise, but not smaller width/length wise. A larger button does help the user push on it, since patients may not have as much dexterity. We're trying to figure out how to throw in a rechargeable battery and arduino into the device, and that's one thing we're very eager to figure out. Portability is very important to our target demographic and we need to make it as unobtrusive and as useful as possible.

Photo of Sisi Messick Jacobs
Team

I love this idea in general! My (shallow) understanding of Parkinsons is that people who have it tend to have tremor in their hands. Will that make it really difficult to put on the watch themselves? Is there any way they can wear it into the shower (make it waterproof) so 1. they never have to take it off and 2. they don't slip and fall in the shower?

Photo of Melody
Team

We have the milanese magnetic band currently on the prototype, so they are able to slip it on with one hand, adjust, and close it with one hand. We decided to avoid a traditional watch clasp or velcro clasp in order to make it easier for them to put on themselves. We do want to improve on this problem though because it's something we've thought a lot about and would love your input on designs of bands that allow one-handed use. Waterproofing is another very important thing we've thought about. It's in our plans for a future iteration - we have been thinking of sealing it with silicone or some kind of urethane waterproof coating. This really would help them wear it all day long, which is important when considering their everyday needs. Thank you for your input!!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Melody!

Thank you for submitting!

How far along is your project?

Could this be used for other conditions?

I noted this - ' as well as improvements of the user experience (putting on the device with the difficulties/symptoms associated with Parkinson's, turning the device on and off)' - do you have any video footage of someone putting on the device and turning it on and off?

Photo of Melody
Team

Hi Kate! We are in the process of 3-D printing and building the second iteration of our band - we've been refining the band after our meeting with the medical researchers and rethinking about ease of putting on the band (we originally tried to do a cloth/velcro band but found that was difficult to put on with one hand.)

We should have the latest physical prototype by Sunday evening and we will have that video footage done early next week (we have a final project due for our class that day and we're having someone come to take professional photographs :-) ) . We should be actually able to have patients try it on shortly - we're working on scheduling that with the co-founder of the Parkinson's rehabilitation center.

Photo of Melody
Team

Hi Kate! We put some videos up yesterday and some more detailed pictures. We have videos of the turning on and off process.

Based on the preliminary research of the doctors, it seems to help with gait mechanics in addition to freezing of gait, since it helps patients know a good pace to step at. We've also discussed embedding sensors to have data gathering ability in further iterations, which can help physical therapists and doctors see their progress over time and understand the state of the disease.

Photo of Chris Pozzi
Team

Great idea - this reminds me of another medical device designed for the wrist that researchers at MIT Media Lab are using to detect seizures for patients with epilepsy:

http://affect.media.mit.edu/projectpages/epilepsy/

Photo of Melody
Team

That's super interesting. We haven't really thought about having a fabric wristband-like material, which might be more comfortable for long-term use. We also haven't explored sensors in the band, which could help with issues such as device initiation (like @Mayra above suggested) if we can determine FOG situations from electrodermal activity or heart rate, etc. That's something we will definitely explore further.

Photo of Allie Miller
Team

I love the magnetic closure. Easy to see why a Parkinson's patient with tremors would prefer such a simple mechanism. Looks very discreet too!

Photo of Melody
Team

Thank you! We iterated on the band design for a while and tried to find something that would be easy to put on and adjust. We've come a long way from a velcro closure :-D

Photo of Hyung Jin Yoo
Team

This is what the world needs to have. Simple solution, great design and meaningful project.

Photo of Melody
Team

Thank you! We're hoping to make this a reality. Really appreciate the support.

Photo of chelsea
Team

Great project. Really fascinating exploration. This seems like a project that could deeply impact lots of lives.

Photo of Melody
Team

Thank you!! We're hoping to refine our prototype further to get it in testing mode!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Melody!

There are 14 hours left to submit your idea to the challenge.

We noticed your post is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have it be included in the challenge. You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your post by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. We're looking forward to seeing your contribution in this challenge.