A team of experts in rehabilitation robotics used a robotic system — the Tethered Pelvic Assist Device (TPAD) — to study whether or not Parkinson’s disease affects patients’ balance and diminishes their ability to react and adapt to walking with perturbations.
The TPAD is a wearable, lightweight cable-driven robot that can be programmed to provide forces on the pelvis in a desired direction as a subject walks on a treadmill.
The researchers evaluated the margin of stability and base of support while the study participants walked without cables on a treadmill. Then the participants were hooked up to the TPAD’s cables and given waist-pull diagonal perturbations for brief periods to assess their reactions.
Parkinson’s patients had a reduced stability in the forward direction before and after training compared to the healthy subjects and an inability to produce proactive anticipatory adjustments. Both groups were able not only to improve their response to the perturbations, but also to produce short-term aftereffects of increased gait stability.