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Posted May 13 , 2013

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R&D

Research study explains why darkness affects walking difficulties in Parkinson’s disease patients

WATERLOO – A study jointly conducted by Wilfrid Laurier University’s Sun Life Financial Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre (MDRC) and the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology discovered that darkness increases occurrences of the “freezing of gait” phenomenon among Parkinson’s disease patients, interrupting their ability to walk.

Freezing of gait (FOG) is a severe symptom of Parkinson’s disease that limits a patient’s ability to walk and can often lead to falls.

“Our research here at Sun Life Financial Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre has been focusing on unraveling underlying causes for freezing of gait,” said Laurier Associate Professor Quincy Almeida, director of the MDRC. “The findings released this week reveal the importance of considering sensory-perceptual deficits as a critical and underlying factor causing freezing of gait, which has yet to be studied."

Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens, a Laurier alumna who is completing her PhD at the University of Waterloo in collaboration with Laurier’s MDRC, studied 19 patients with Parkinson’s disease. As they walked through a doorway the amount of sensory information available to them was manipulated. Patients experienced FOG whether they walked through a doorway or into open space, as long as it was in complete darkness. FOG episodes increased as sensory information was taken away, leading to the conclusion that sensory-perceptual deficits may be a core mechanism underlying this severe deficit.

Ehgoetz Martens is one of the first researchers to make use of Laurier’s new virtual-reality equipment funded by a multimillion-dollar investment by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. She received a three-year doctoral scholarship worth more than $100,000 from the Canadian Institute of Health Research in partnership with the Parkinson's Society Canada to research how sensory-perceptual impairments contribute to movement impairments in Parkinson’s disease.

The results of the study were published May 8 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. The article, titled “Could Sensory Mechanisms be a Core Factor that Underlies Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s Disease?” was authored by Ehgoetz Martens, Almeida, and Laurier PhD student Frederico Pieruccini-Faria.

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