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Gait analysis sheds new light on Parkinson’s disease

A team of researchers from Tampere University of Technology and Satakunta Hospital District is investigating how Parkinson’s disease affects walking. The results hold promise for improving the quality of treatment.
MSc (Tech) Milla Jauhiainen is involved in the project as part of her dissertation research. She is exploring the use of accelerometers in the detection of Parkinson’s symptoms.
MSc (Tech) Milla Jauhiainen is involved in the project as part of her dissertation research. She is exploring the use of accelerometers in the detection of Parkinson’s symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive degenerative disorder that mainly affects middle aged and elderly people. It interferes with muscle control, leading to, for example, tremors, slowness and stiffness. The age of onset is usually between the ages of 50 and 70. The incidence of the disease is slightly higher among men than among women. There are approximately 14,000 people living with Parkinson’s disease in Finland.  

One of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is that walking becomes difficult. Tampere University of Technology (TUT) and Satakunta Hospital District are conducting a project that explores how walking is affected at the different stages of the disease. The project seeks to increase our understanding of the symptoms, severity and progression of brain-related disorders and improve the quality and effectiveness of treatment. 

The two-year project, scheduled to end in 2018, involves around 100 people living with Parkinson’s disease in the Satakunta region. Their gait is analysed using wearable wireless sensors and advanced signal processing methods.  Changes in the way they walk can be remotely monitored in real time. 

“Technology opens up new opportunities for monitoring brain-related disorders and predicting their progression,” says Senior Research Fellow Hannu Nieminen and Doctoral Student Saeed Mehrang from TUT. 

In addition, the digitally collected data can be used to monitor the effects of medication or other treatment options.  

“That’s important, because with the right timing and amount of medication, we can significantly reduce the symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life,” states Director Olavi Kilkku from Orion Pharma. 

Docent Juha Puustinen, chief physician at the Department of Neurology in Satakunta Hospital District, finds the project important and hopes that the research results help improve patient care and drug monitoring.  

“The results of our research can benefit not only patients but also all the doctors and other medical professionals who treat Parkinson’s,” says Puustinen.  

A further goal of the project is to set up a so-called ecosystem platform to offer innovators and medical personnel a shared technical platform for developing and providing virtual healthcare services. 

“Complex, high-performance computing equipment, for example, in the field of data communications are increasingly moving towards virtual environments. The same phenomenon can be seen in clinical services. Virtuality can pave the way for new innovations and significantly extend the reach of high-quality medical and healthcare services,” says Adjunct Professor Jari Ruokolainen from TUT.  

Vice Dean for Research, Professor Saku Mäkinen from TUT calls the project a prime example of collaboration. It cuts across the conventional boundaries between academic disciplines and faculties and has a strong cross-disciplinary focus.

The KÄVELI project (2016–2018) is funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes and conducted in collaboration between TUT, Satakunta Hospital District and company partners Orion Pharma, Forciot and Suunto.

Forciot and Suunto support the project by providing the necessary motion sensors. The companies are confident that their collaboration with a university will promote the development of their technologies for new business areas.

Further information:

Principal investigator, Adjunct Professor Jari Ruokolainen, tel. +358 50 482 1353 (Tampere University of Technology)

Head of medical research, Chief Physician Juha Puustinen tel. +358 44 707 7806 (Satakunta Central Hospital)

News submitted by: Anna Naukkarinen
News updated by: Tuuli Laukkanen
Keywords: science and research, services and collaboration