GaitAid in Clinical Trial for Falls

The training device GaitAid is already being used to help improve locomotion for those with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Now, a clinical trial is enrolling subjects to test whether it might also help prevent falls in the elderly. According to the CDC, falls are “the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries” in older adults.

GaitAid is actually a miniature augmented reality system, created by Technion computer science professor Yoram Baram. He had seen a news report describing how Parkinson’s patients were able to walk much more naturally on tile floors, with their high contrast patterns, than on monochrome floors. With his experience developing virtual reality systems for NASA, he set about creating a simple VR system that could reproduce the effect.

The GaitAid headpiece looks more like stylish sunglasses than a clunky VR visor; it connects to a pager-sized unit whose motion sensors dynamically superimpose a black-and-white tile pattern as the patient walks along. Headphones amplify the patient’s steps, giving feedback to re-enforce a proper a proper rhythm.

Currently, GaitAid, available for $1995 online, is being used by patients to practice stride length and rhythm in order to restore a more normal walking pattern and reduce “freezing,” a Parkinson’s condition in which the legs don’t respond to the brain’s signal to walk.

Now, Technion and Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City have teamed up to determine whether GaitAid might also help in fall prevention. The trial is extremely simple: Participants will be asked to walk without aid, then walk using GaitAid, and then asked to walk again, unaided. Researchers will evaluate whether the brief time using GaitAid made a discernible, helpful difference.

Information on participating in the trial can be found here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVIKRYNyiug#t=384]