Pitt study examines effects of visual, auditory, and tactile cues on human gait
Walking to a beat could be useful for patients needing rehabilitation, according to a University of Pittsburgh study. The findings, highlighted in the August issue of PLOS One, demonstrate that researchers should further investigate the potential of auditory, visual, and tactile cues in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from illnesses like Parkinson's Disease-a brain disorder leading to shaking (tremors) and difficulty walking.
Together with a team of collaborators from abroad, Ervin Sejdic, an assistant professor of engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, studied the effects of various metronomic stimuli (a mechanically produced beat) on fifteen healthy adults, ages 18 to 30. Walkers participated in two sessions consisting of five 15-minute trials in which the participants walked with different cues.
In the first, participants walked at their preferred walking speed. Then, in subsequent trials, participants were asked to walk to a metronomic beat, produced by way of visuals, sound, or touch. Finally, participants were asked to walk with all three cues simultaneously, the pace of which was set to that 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 Sejdic. "This finding could be particularly helpful for patients with Parkinson's Disease, for example, as auditory cues work very well in their rehabilitation."
Sejdic said that with illnesses like Parkinson's Disease, a big question is whether researchers can better understand the changes that come with this deterioration. Through their study, the Pitt team feels that visual cues could be considered as an alternative modality in rehabilitation and should be further explored in the laboratory.