A patient's discovery that an everyday laser pointer helps him walk may point the way toward an effective remedy for a common and frustrating symptom of Parkinson's disease. The patient's physicians at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital are presenting the results of a study involving just a few patients at this week's meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Toronto. While the small size of the study should make patients and doctors pause before assuming the treatment will help, the authors say neurologists would do well to have a laser pointer handy to let patients give it a try.
The simple device seems to help patients overcome freezing episodes, where patients' legs literally freeze in place as they're trying to walk. For about 30 percent of Parkinson's patients, this 'sudden transient freezing' is one of the most difficult symptoms of the disease. The episodes can last for seconds or even several minutes. Some patients experience only momentary hesitation occasionally, while for others the episodes occur dozens of times a day, making almost any simple movement from room to room a laborious task taking several minutes.
Patient Stan Clark of Old Forge, a small town in northern New York State, noticed that when his legs stopped, looking at patterns on the floor sometimes helped him start moving again. A retired glazier, Clark etched a line in his glasses so that when he looked down, he saw the line, which helped him begin walking again -- but the line obscured his vision. Then he tried a flashlight, shining the beam at the spot he wanted to walk toward and trying to step on the spot. But the flashlight's beam spread out too much. Then Clark chanced upon a laser pointer. "I looked at the laser spot, and my feet just seemed to go to it," he says.
Clark talked about his experience with his doctors, neurologists Timothy
Counihan and Lin Zhang, who then tried the device with six patients in the
Contact: Tom Rickey
University of Rochester