Hoping to Help Parkinson Patients to Walk Better to The Beat of a Metronome

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April 28th, 2021

Ryan Meidinger, researches the possibilities to help Parkinson’s patients. Image by Meidinger.

OMAHA – In Parkinson’s disease, neurons in the brain progressively break down or die. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter in the brain. People with Parkinson’s tend to move parts of their body more slowly, and the speech mechanism is also affected by this disease.

Basically, the rhythm of moving muscles in the body becomes unbalanced.

A metronome is commonly used to learn to play a musical instrument. The sounds are mixed with a certain beat and become music.

Tapping to the beat of a metronome could help people with Parkinson’s to retrain certain muscles and possibly improve the lifestyle of those with this disease.

“So what I’m going to have you do is I’m going to have you tap along with the metronome. The metronome is going to go away and then I’m going to try to recreate the metronome. Here it comes. Okay, good, you can stop.”

Ryan Meidinger hopes to help Parkinson’s patients with one of his dissertations at UNO.

“I am a doctoral candidate at UNO right now in the biomechanics research building,” Meidinger said. “We work a lot with people with Parkinson’s disease and I’m mostly focused on doing things like neuroimaging, so I try to record people’s brain activity.”

Meidinger is about to begin his work of monitoring people and recording their brain activity when they tap their fingers at a certain beat of a metronome.

“So, with cross-education, you can train one limb and the other will get stronger and larger. It’s not a complete transfer, but you can transfer these things across limbs so our body, in some way, is able to just pass this stuff back and forth between sides and between limbs,” Meidinger explained. “So the thought is that hopefully, the mechanisms that are active with this process education are also active with this finger tapping, and the walking transfers.”

We could say that each of us has a personal rhythm of walking. With his research, Meidinger is trying to discover if tapping the fingers to the rhythm of a metronome can help control the rhythm of the feet.

The principle behind Meidinger’s research is re-applying the learning process we went through as children.

“For example, when a child learns to draw the letter “a” with their hand, they can immediately draw it in the sand with their foot,” Meidinger said.

Because of the pandemic, Meidinger is slightly behind with his research. He needs 30 people for this study, and bringing people to the research facility has not been easy.

“Okay, so now I’m going to have you walk in a comfortable pace and I’ll let you know when to stop walking and start, and stop.”

If you or someone that you know wants to be part of this research, you can contact Ryan at [email protected]

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