Photo of Doug Merfeld
ROCHESTER, Minn. - The Mayo Clinic has developed a device that some Parkinson's patients say is helping them walk more easily.
It's essentially a highly adjustable laser light.
Most of us never give turning a corner a second thought, but diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, it's often the first thing on Doug Merfeld's mind. Turns cause him to freeze.
He said, "I have a freezing gait so I couldn't even start. I'd just stop couldn't even start."
A former auctioneer from Iowa, Parkinson's also sped up Merfeld's speech and shortened his gait. He takes smaller steps at doorways, on turns and when someone passes in front of him.
But with the flip of the laser light switch he is now walking more smoothly, easily.
It's called the Mobilaser, a new device developed by and being studied at the Mayo Clinic. It is attached to a walker or a cane.
Merfeld said, "I know it works for me and that's the main thing."
Movement disorders neurologist, Dr. Bryan Klaussen with the Mayo Clinic said, "It makes a line appear on the floor as they're using their walker so they can see that and step toward it as they're moving it's really as simple as that."
Klaussen said Mobilaser works because it adds a visual cue, a concept neurologists been teaching to those with Parkinson's for years. The Mobilaser is a continuous visual cue.
Visual cues reroute the walking command through the brain.
Klaussen said movement we generate on our own, such as walking, goes through one stream of processing in the brain, through an area that is slowed by Parkinson's.
But movements linked to visual cues, like grabbing a cup or walking toward a line, take a different route, bypassing the trouble spot.
Klaussen said, "It's kind of a trick you're using to trick the brain into working better."
Mobilaser, still being studied by doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, is not covered by insurance.
Merfeld paid $400 for the device and said it has been worth it, helping him turn a new corner, being better able to get around.
Merfeld said, "I can do a lot of things I could never do before so it's very, very helpful."
The Parkinson Foundation Minnesota is holding its annual Moving Day Twin Cities on Saturday, May 12, 2012.
It will be at the Hilde Center and Park at 3500 Plymouth Boulevard. Walkers can register online at www.parkinsonmn.org.
Money raised continues to support the local work of Parkinson Foundation Minnesota and the National Parkinson Foundation which work to improve the lives of individuals with Parkinson's disease.
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