Scientists in Sweden have claimed that a wearable device, which stimulates a sense of balance with electric “noise” could help mitigate the symptoms Parkinson’s disease.
A portable pocket-sized balance, stimulation device or vestibular has been developed by the scientists at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy in an effort to improve the lives of Parkinson’s sufferers.
The device is similar to TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), which is used to alleviate labour pains, said the leader of the study Associate Professor Filip Bergquist. “The difference is that it uses a current profile which helps you to stimulate the balance organs without causing a balance disturbance. So you do not feel that the world is moving or that you are moving, you actually do not feel anything,” Bergquist explained. The device provides stimulation through patches implanted on a patient’s head behind the ears.
Parkinson’s disease is associated with a shortage in the brain of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that allows different regions of the brain to communicate with one another. Symptoms include an impaired sense of balance, tremors, poor mobility, slowness and stiffness. Most Parkinson’s patients are treated with levodopa, a drug that stimulates dopamine production. However, over time its effectiveness reduces leading to dyskinesia or involuntary movements.
The fact that noisy electric stimulation of the balance organs can be effective in modifying the activity of the brain and thereby to balance the effects of dopamine shortage had been shown by researchers in their experiment on rats. The method has been tested on ten Parkinson’s patients in Sweden by the researchers in both medicated and unmedicated states. The experiments showed that the active noise stimulation improved both the patients’ balance and the combined symptoms.
It is being hoped that the device could treat patients for whom Levodopa is not enough. “Our focus is on cases where Levodopa is no longer effective and in particular on patients with gait and balance problems,” said Bergquist.