New mobile device reduces tremor in Parkinson’s disease

A new portable device the size of a standard wristwatch appears to be a safe way to control rest tremor (when the hand, for example, trembles at rest) in people with Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study. In a study published Nov. 18 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, scientists have shown that a device that uses vibrations to send signals to the brain can disrupt rhythms that cause restlessness. In Parkinson’s disease, these tremors occur when the muscles are relaxed, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

People with the condition may have trembling hands, arms or legs even when at rest, scientists say. “Trembling can often disrupt the activities of daily living by affecting mobility and balance, so a non-invasive, non-medical way to deal with this tremor is very exciting,” says David F. Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation for the health system. Mount Sinai in New York and co-author of the study. “When we applied this stimulus to people with Parkinson’s disease, it was not annoying or painful and seemed to reduce tremors.”

The results will have to be confirmed in large-scale clinical trials “with people with Parkinson’s disease wearing the device day in and day out” for long periods of time before it is available for use, according to Mr Putrino.

Existing therapies target the brain

The device in this study is not the first approach to providing vibrations or energy pulses to the nervous system, according to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA).

Two surgical procedures, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and Focus High Intensity Ultrasound (FUS), have been used for years. At FUS, surgeons apply ultrasound beams to a specific target in the brain, creating enough energy to form a small lesion that can disrupt abnormal circuits in people with Parkinson’s disease.

In DBS, meanwhile, a surgeon is inserting thin electrodes into areas of the brain that control movement, ADPA reports. These electrodes, which are connected by a cable to a pulse generator implanted under the skin in the chest, provide tiny electrical pulses that allow the brain to maintain normal motor activity.

Researchers have also investigated whether putting people with Parkinson’s disease on a vibrating platform improves tremor and other symptoms. The results have been mixed so far.

How the new, non-invasive device works

Although the portable device developed by Putrino and his colleagues works in much the same way as DBS, it does not involve surgery and targets the peripheral nervous system, or the nerves of the body outside the brain, rather than the brain itself. It can also be controlled by users with a mobile application.

The device – which is the size and weight of a wristwatch, Putrino says – can provide two types of pulses. The first is firm, very gentle and looks like a gentle touch or tick on the inside of the wrist or ankle. Users hardly notice it. The second is more intense, but not continuous, according to Putrino. It is more intense, more pulsating, more visible and looks like a heartbeat inside the ankle or wrist.

Photo: Putrino Lab at Mount Sinai Hospital

In this most recent study, 44 people with Parkinson’s disease who had a tremor at rest wore the device to their ankles or wrists for a short period of time – several 10-minute sessions. Users saw a reduction in tremor while receiving both types of vibrating pulses, with no reported side effects, the researchers said.

Although the technology does not appear to have lasting effects – that is, the fear reduction stops as soon as we remove the device – it provides relief during use, according to Putrino. In addition, it is powered by a battery that can last all day if charged overnight.

Larger studies are needed to determine the optimal vibration dose. Putrino and his team are in the process of securing funding to conduct larger clinical trials of the device.


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