Rhythmic Haptic Cueing Using Wearable Devices as Physiotherapy for Huntington Disease: Case Study

Georgiou, Theodoros; Islam, Riasat; Holland, Simon; Linden, Janet Van Der; Price, Blaine; Mulholland, Paul and Perry, Allan (2020). Rhythmic Haptic Cueing Using Wearable Devices as Physiotherapy for Huntington Disease: Case Study. JMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies, 7(2), article no. 18589.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/18589


Background: Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited genetic disorder that results in the death of brain cells. HD symptoms generally start with subtle changes in mood and mental abilities; they then degenerate progressively, ensuing a general lack of coordination and an unsteady gait, ultimately resulting in death. There is currently no cure for HD. Walking cued by an external, usually auditory, rhythm has been shown to steady gait and help with movement coordination in other neurological conditions. More recently, work with other neurological conditions has demonstrated that haptic (ie, tactile) rhythmic cues, as opposed to audio cues, offer similar improvements when walking. An added benefit is that less intrusive, more private cues are delivered by a wearable device that leaves the ears free for conversation, situation awareness, and safety. This paper presents a case study where rhythmic haptic cueing (RHC) was applied to one person with HD. The case study has two elements: the gait data we collected from our wearable devices and the comments we received from a group of highly trained expert physiotherapists and specialists in HD. Objective: The objective of this case study was to investigate whether RHC can be applied to improve gait coordination and limb control in people living with HD. While not offering a cure, therapeutic outcomes may delay the onset or severity of symptoms, with the potential to improve and prolong quality of life. Methods: The approach adopted for this study includes two elements, one quantitative and one qualitative. The first is a repeated-measures design with three conditions: before haptic rhythm (ie, baseline), with haptic rhythm, and after exposure to haptic rhythm. The second element is an in-depth interview with physiotherapists observing the session. Results: In comparison to the baseline, the physiotherapists noted a number of improvements to the participant’s kinematics during her walk with the haptic cues. These improvements continued in the after-cue condition, indicating some lasting effects. The quantitative data obtained support the physiotherapists’ observations. Conclusions: The findings from this small case study, with a single participant, suggest that a haptic metronomic rhythm may have immediate, potentially therapeutic benefits for the walking kinematics of people living with HD and warrants further investigation.

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