Physicists use fractals to help Parkinson's sufferers

A new portable system for analyzing the walking patterns of people with Parkinson's disease has been developed by researchers in the US and Japan. The system, described in the Institute of Physics publication Journal of Neural Engineering, will help doctors monitor the progress of the disease in patients and so tailor their therapy and drug regime more accurately than previously possible.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system. Its symptoms include: uncontrollable trembling, difficulty walking, and postural problems that often lead to falls. These symptoms are usually controlled with dopamine agonist drugs. However, these can have a number of side-effects, such as jerking movements. It is also known that the body builds up a tolerance to the drug.

Understanding the nature and severity of symptoms for individual patients, which is reflected in their walking pattern, could help doctors improve a patient's quality of life, by guiding their treatment more effectively, and so reduce side-effects.

Researchers have previously tried to quantify the problems suffered by Parkinson's patients by studying their gait. Now, Masaki Sekine, Metin Akay, and Toshiyo Tamura, of the Department of Gerontechnology, National Institute for Longevity Sciences, in Aichi, Japan and Thayer School of Engineering, New Hampshire USA, working with their colleagues at the Fujimoto Hayasuzu Hospital, in Miy azaki, Japan, have devised a portable system based on a sensor placed on the patient's body that measures movements in three dimensions. The readings from this sensor, known as a tri-axial accelerometer, are fed to a computer, together with measurements of the patients walking speed, and analysed using a fractal system.

Fractals are usually associated with irregular geometric objects that look the same no matter what scale they are viewed at: clouds, branching trees, rugged coastlines, rocky mountains, are all examples of fracta

Contact: David Reid
Institute of Physics

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