Straight after graduating from Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, Lise Pape immersed herself in a project that is changing the lives of sufferers of Parkinson’s and MS all over the UK, and hopefully soon, all over the world.
I founded Walk With Path (WWP) at the end of 2014, upon my graduation from Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. The two products that the company is currently working on constituted my final project in Innovation Design Engineering MA/MSc. I started the project by exploring the impact of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) on everyday life. My research included working closely with users and their families as well as scientific experts.
One of the core areas of impact that stood out for me was mobility. Being able to walk, and most importantly, not fall, is something most of us take for granted. However, for people with certain conditions, this is not the case. Being prone to falling, or fearing falling, can be a great hindrance. Not only it impacts core mobility and activity, but it also has deep social effects, such as lack of independence and potential reduction in quality of life. The problems associated with mobility are something that I feel close to and passionate about trying to impact, as my father suffers from PD. The solutions that WWP are developing can benefit a broader audience, including frail elderly and people suffering from MS and diabetes.
The economic and social effects of an aging population pose a critical global challenge. One of the impacts of aging is a heightened risk of falling. This risk also increases in people with diseases such as PD and diabetes. Falls lead to devastating consequences, such as:
• Reduction in quality of life
• Social isolation and reduced independence
• Sky-rocketing health care costs
The staggering scale of the problem:
• 424,000 people die from falls globally every year (World Health Organization (WHO))
• 37.3 million falls require medical attention yearly (WHO)
• The medical costs of falls in the US was over $31 billion in 2015 and is expected to increase to $54.9 billion by 2020 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))
• In the UK the cost of falls to the NHS has reached £2.3 billion per year (AgeUK).
• Each hospital visit is estimated to cost over $30,000 in the US (CDC)
• Falls are the primary cause for a person’s loss of independence and need for permanent care (Public Health England)
• Our products aim at reducing the risk of falls, thus bringing significant benefits to multiple stakeholders:
• Patients and their relatives – improved quality of life, and reduction of injuries, social isolation and treatment costs
• Healthcare providers (public and private) – reduced costs
• Governments – contain healthcare spend and keep people working towards retirement
With these goals in mind, we have developed two core products:
• Path Finder: A shoe attachment that aims to overcome Freezing of Gait (FoG), primarily seen in PD
• Path Feel: An insole that aims to improve balance in individuals with sensory deficit or balance issues, including diabetics.
Path Finder: Path Finder is a shoe attachment that provides visual cues to help people with unsteady and irregular gait. This is particularly helpful to people with neurodegenerative diseases such as PD, who commonly suffer from FoG, a symptom-causing an individual to feel as if frozen to the ground. Path Finder projects a horizontal line on the ground in front of the user, from each foot in turn, at a set distance from the feet. This gives the wearer a visual cue to step across and acts as an external stimulus to trigger walking. Path Finder has been granted a UK patent, and its international patent applications are pending.
Path Feel: Path Feel is an insole that provides vibration feedback to the soles of people at risk of falls, such as those with peripheral neuropathy, who are unable to feel the ground properly due to a sensory deficit, or those with general balance issues. By amplifying the sense of touch of the feet to the ground, users are able to identify accurately when their feet touch the ground, thereby reducing the sense of imbalance as well as incidence of falls. The results so far are terribly exciting and promising. Path Feel has been tested in elderly people where an improvement in balance was seen in 11 out of 12 participants! We are testing it further in patients with neuropathies, partnering with University College London. Furthermore, Path Feel captures data through pressure sensors and an inertial measurement unit. This data can be used to understand gait patterns and activities of the user, which has multiple potential opportunities for new products. This could change the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Uk suffering from conditions affected by sensory motor disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, Autism, and Parkinson’s Disease.