NeuRA Magazine #28


A team of researchers from NeuRA has received a grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Shake It Up Australia Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, to test smart garment technologies to help prevent falls in people living with the disease.

Falls are a common and often devastating event in the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. They are frequently caused by gait impairments, postural instability and freezing-of-gait, a brief absence of forward momentum of the feet despite the intention to walk.

The grant will be used to develop the StandingTall-PD Study, a neurorehabilitation program that aims to prevent freezing-of-gait and falls and enhance participants’ independence.

The program uses visual, audio and sensory cues to help rewire the parts of the brain that control walking in people with Parkinson’s and involves Sensoria Smart Socks with haptic feedback and core microelectronics.

How does it work?

Participants will receive a NeuRA training mat with colour-coded stepping targets, a pair of Sensoria Smart Socks, an iPad and phone. Participants train daily, stepping on coloured targets on the mat that match a series of colours displayed on their iPad.

At the same time, they will listen to rhythmic auditory cues like music or a metronome beat that are synchronised with the vibrating Smart Socks.

The combination of visual, audio and sensory elements helps to form new connections in less affected parts of the brain, leading to improved walking ability. Participants can self-manage and monitor their own progress via an app on their phone.

The app can also trigger stimuli during everyday activities, such as vibration in their Smart Socks, if they are in danger of experiencing freezing-of-gait, falls or if they show signs of shuffling feet.

Clinicians can also monitor participants’ progress remotely and adjust the program to provide ongoing and personalised continuity of care.

The Smart Socks buzz to engage the feet when they detect an altered pattern in walking that suggests a fall is about to take place.

Improving quality of life for people with Parkinson’s

Associate Professor Kim Delbaere says The Michael J. Fox and Shake It Up Foundation’s grant gives hope to people with Parkinson’s.

“StandingTall-PD could transform the management of gait impairments for those with the disease,” says Associate Professor Delbaere, adding, “the global uptake of mobile technology makes our user-friendly product suitable for widespread community application.”

Find out more

To learn more about the study and find out the eligibility criteria please email

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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.