Every Parkinson's person out there (approximately ten million in the whole world) gets worse month after month and experiences many quirky variations of side-effects from medicine and/or their bodies faulty nervous system. Having said that, last year Parkinson's UK asked many of us to rate the worst fifty things that PD visits upon us and the top one was fear of falling/loss of balance.
PD shrinks our lives as it becomes ever more problematical to get around without head-butting the ground in front of us. Often running parallel to our loss of balance is FOG, or Freezing Of Gait. You could be walking into another room when you notice the division between the two rooms caused by the doors' frame. Normal person: So what? Parky person: Our nervous system is mesmerized and puts the brakes on against our will by freezing us to the spot (perhaps welding us to the spot would be a more apt description). FOG has gripped us and lifting our feet off the ground to take a step is well-nigh impossible.
FOG often grabs us when our balance is feeling more vulnerable. For some the difficulties with balance they encounter daily are reasonably well controlled by their medication, but as time passes and our PD progresses this control is gradually lost particularly overnight when we do not take medication because we are asleep (yeah, right! That's not so easy as sleep is very often something we long for but only get a couple or three hours per night).
No Side Effect
So, is there anything out there that is without side-effects, non-invasive and not requiring a lot of practice to yield any benefit? Yes! Laser technology is used in a way that takes advantage of the same peculiarities in our brains that cause FOG, namely our reaction to virtual geometry. Putting a line in front of us and concentrating on stepping over it can break us free from a FOG episode (early prototype testing yielded a 55 % improvement walking around a room cluttered with furniture that encouraged FOG and loss of balance in Parky people). But where do we find ground or flooring in front of us marked out with lines?
Path Finder laser projectors put a line in front of our feet that we can touch with our toes or tread on or step over depending on how we set them to suit our preferences. The beam projectors strap on to our shoes. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries provide power for the lasers which project a bright green beam of light; adjust the angle so the green line from each laser is in front of the opposite foot and we are good to go. It does take a bit of practice getting used to the light but to give you an idea here are my observations after trying Path Finder out thoroughly:
Walking on carpet, lino, wooden laminate etc. (basically all indoors surfaces) the beams are sharp and wandering around stepping on the beams I find my usual lack of balance is greatly diminished – don't get me wrong it is not entirely absent and walking appreciable distances is still hard work but it is noticeably steadier and perhaps more importantly I feel much more confident and this feeds into being able to walk under circumstances where I would not risk getting out of my chair before.
Day and Night Time Use
Walking outdoors I found tarmac, concrete and stone surfaces reflected the beams well enough to gain benefit from using Path Finder but walking on grass or broken gravel dissipated the beam, a minor problem but I doubt any Parky people who need Path Finder would be trying to play football or rambling mountain trails so losing functionality in these instances would not make a difference to most of us.
These laser projectors draw on scientific studies which show how odd a Parky persons' response to visual stimuli can be, but sometimes scientific methodology can turn up unexpected results if we look at a problem and reverse it or turn it on its head. These lasers are designed to help prevent FOG and improve our gait when we walk in the day but how about trying them overnight?
Many Parky people like me are awake for much of the night but with no medications in our systems it is even harder to get around. One of the questions on many Parkinson's questionnaires asks us whether we suffer with incontinence; I reply nearly as the old bladder is still okay at holding it in but are my legs and sense of balance good enough to risk an attempt to visit the toilet? When the answer is no it becomes a night of crossed legs and gritted teeth! Using Path Finder makes the trip from bedroom to bathroom a much steadier proposition and you can make interesting light displays when sitting by waving your feet around!! Joking aside, I can see the most valuable part of using Path Finder for me will be the overnight experience.
Just a thought: I sleep in a recliner chair so have the Path finder units on my feet ready to use when I wake up; if you sleep in a bed it would be necessary to put the units on when you get up. This could prove to be difficult as the rubber strapping is very tough and beyond the strength of a Parky person during an 'off' spell. A simple answer to this problem that I employ is to permanently fasten the units to a pair of shoes or trainers which can then be put on much more easily than struggling with the rubber straps.
Okay Parkinson's friends I hope my comments will have informed you as to the pros and cons associated with using the Path Finder devices – but the only way to be sure they will work for you is to try them out. In my own case I tried them and now I have purchased them because they work for me.
Good luck and keep well!