This simple little device is helping to tackle one of the most frustrating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—and its creators have just been awarded more than $1 million to help finance its distribution.
Danish entrepreneur Lise Pape was inspired to develop the Path Finder device after her own father developed Parkinson’s in 2014. The contraption, which is attached to a patient’s shoe and shines a laser onto the floor, helps to prevent “freezing of gait”: a common symptom of the disease which makes the patient feel as if they are unable to walk.
“People describe it as this feeling of being glued to the floor and being unable to step forward with their feet, despite having the intention to do so,” said Pape. “In fact, 70% of all falls in Parkinson’s are thought to be due to this symptom.”
Surprisingly, researchers have found that it is easy for patients to avoid this symptom if they have a visual pattern for them to follow as they walk. That’s why Pape designed the Path Finder laser pointer to display a bright green line in front of the wearer’s feet.
Not only do studies show that the laser device helps to reduce the frequency of freezing episodes, they also say that the Path Finder reduces the length of the episodes as well.
Since Pape launched her Walk With Path company in 2017 as a means of distributing the devices throughout Europe, they have been given to individuals and healthcare systems in Norway, Denmark, Canada, and the UK.
Additionally, Pape and the Path Finder were just awarded this year’s €1 million ($1.09 million) Horizon Prize for Social Innovation from the European Union.
The prize will now help her bring the Path Finder to the US market and expand distribution throughout the rest of Europe. The devices are currently being sold on the company website for up to £474 a pop.
Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, handed over the prizes at the European Research and Innovation Days in Brussels this week, saying: “These innovations make a real difference for our senior citizens by helping them maintain an active social life as well as their autonomy.
“These projects also demonstrate how EU support opens the door to new innovative businesses and inspires cooperation between innovators and organizations from civil society, and the private and public sectors. This is a great benefit to all of us.”
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