Gait Disturbance, University of Exeter

Meet the Researcher Online

Dr. Will Young gave a presentation about the work he describes here, and took questions from a PenPRIG Panel.  We are pleased to present the video: https://youtu.be/eHTQSfrv_WA

Using psychological strategies to overcome freezing of gait in Parkinson’s

I am sorry not to be able meet at PenPRIG’s Meet The Researcher event (25th March, cancelled by Covid-19). Nevertheless, I am sure we all look forward to the rescheduled meeting. As a new arrival to Devon, my plan for the meeting was to introduce myself and describe my current plans for developing new Parkinson’s research in the South West.

A recent project: I recently led a project funded by Parkinson’s UK which was a collaboration between The University of Exeter and Brunel University London. This project aimed to determine if a simple, novel and cost-effective intervention (using simple verbal instructions or movement analogies, such as “sway like a tree in the breeze” can help people with Parkinson’s who experience freezing of gait, shift their balance in a way that helps them step from a freeze.

In this project, 35 participants wore a virtual reality headset showing environments representative of typical domestic scenes that often worsen freezing symptoms, such as a narrow doorway with surrounding furniture. These environments were used, not only to induce freezing, but also increase anxiety (as people often experience anxiety when freezing in daily life). Results showed that, when using the taught weight-shifting strategies, people reduced the number of unsuccessful attempts to step from a freeze by 97% (i.e., the strategy worked almost every time). We are currently preparing to publish these findings. While these results are very encouraging, it is important to remember that they were collected in a controlled laboratory environment with participants secured in a harness. Therefore, we are developing a new larger project to find out if these strategies are safe and effective to use in daily life, and if they can be taught using a simple instructional video.

As part of the above project we also conducted in-depth interviews with all participants. This work has helped us to better understand the relationship between anxiety and freezing. We hope that this improved understanding will help us (and other researchers and clinicians) develop improved strategies to help people overcome both anxiety and freezing in daily life.

I always look for advice and comments from local Parkinson’s branches and groups to help guide ongoing and future research. If you experience regular freezing of gait and you (or your friends and family) may be interested in joining a dedicated group to advise on this research, please contact me directly via  my University Profile .