Walking to an audible beat may help individuals who need rehabilitation, according to a University of Pittsburgh study.
The findings provide hope for the potential of auditory, visual, and tactile cues in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from illnesses like Parkinson’s disease — a brain disorder that includes shaking (tremors) and difficulty walking.
For the study, 15 healthy adults (ages 18-30) walked in two sessions of five 15-minute trials in which the participants walked with different cues.
In the first trial, volunteers walked at their own speed. Then, in the following trials, participants were asked to walk to a metronomic beat, produced by way of visuals, sound, or touch. Finally, participants walked with all three cues simultaneously to the pace of the first trial.
“We found that the auditory cue had the greatest influence on human gait, while the visual cues had no significant effect whatsoever,” said Ervin Sejdic, Ph.D., an assistant professor of engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.
“This finding could be particularly helpful for patients with Parkinson’s disease, for example, as auditory cues work very well in their rehabilitation.”
Sejdic added that with disorders such as Parkinson’s, a big question is whether researchers can better understand the changes that come with this deterioration. Through the study, the team believed that visual cues could be considered as an alternative method during rehabilitation and should be further explored in the laboratory.
“Oftentimes, a patient with Parkinson’s disease comes in for an exam, completes a gait assessment in the laboratory, and everything is great,” said Sejdic.
“But then, the person leaves and falls down. Why? Because a laboratory is a strictly controlled environment. It’s flat, has few obstacles, and there aren’t any cues (like sound) around us.
“When we’re walking around our neighborhoods, however, there are sidewalks, as well as streetlights and people honking car horns: You have to process all of this information together. We are trying to create that real-life space in the laboratory.”
In the future, the researchers hope to conduct similar walking trials with Parkinson’s patients, to see whether their gait is more or less stable.
“Can we see the same trends that we observed in healthy people?” he said. “And, if we observe the same trends, then that would have direct connotations to rehabilitation processes.”
Furthermore, the team plans to investigate the impact of music on runners and walkers.
The research is published in PLOS ONE.
Source: University of Pittsburgh
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