One of the problems that people with Parkinson’s disease face is the possibility of “freezing” during normal movement, which leads to falls and loss of mobility. Surprisingly, small external cues can help them avoid freezes, or avoid them altogether — and De Oro has raised $2.8 million to commercialize its NexStride Portable Gadgetwhich provides these hints upon request.
The easiest way to understand freezing is that the normal pathway in the brain for your body to turn the impulse to “go ahead” into actual movement is not activated properly. This can cause movement to slow down or stop, despite the desire of the limbs to move the way they normally do.
Research has found a surprisingly effective technique for preventing this: hints. When a person sees or hears an external signal associated with moving forward, it activates another path for moving forward, pulling the person out of a frozen state.
De Oro’s device gives two such signals. One of them is a melodious ringing, like a metronome, that makes the brain think about moving in time with it, and not step by step. The second is a laser line right in front of the user’s feet, which seems to activate the idea of stepping over something or passing by rather than just “forward”.
The NexStride attaches to a walker or cane using a small elastic loop, such as a bicycle headlight, with a wired controller that can be placed in a convenient location for the user. The hardware dials on the main unit allow them to control the volume and tempo of the metronome, as well as the position of the laser line.
The lab has conducted many studies on the effectiveness of this approach, and the company conducted a survey of its customers, finding that the vast majority of them were able to move more confidently and with less fear. The clinicians they have worked with recommend the device to clients as well as a convenient all-in-one way to improve mobility.
There are several such items, for example, U-step walkers with laser and sound equipment. But the U-Step is built into the walker itself: a large and heavy item, not particularly suitable for outdoor use, and certainly not something a person with a physical disability could toss in the trunk. As is often the case with accessibility hardware, there is a lot of legacy hardware from decades past.
NexStride has the advantage of being self-contained and portable – people often have a favorite cane or walker, and the gadget can be attached to just about anything and switched in minutes. “NexStride doesn’t force people to compromise between their favorite means of transportation and access to those effective visual and auditory cues,” said De Oro founder and CEO Sidney Collin.
Manual control was chosen based on feedback; users and clinicians have recommended it over the automatic approach that NexStride first tried, which supposedly would turn on a laser or sound when the person stopped moving. It turns out that people like to be in control, especially people for whom control is a daily medical problem.
The only sticking point is the retail price: a somewhat mind-blowing $500 not yet covered by insurance. While it’s not the most expensive medical or mobile device, it’s a little hard to match the price of the stickers with the device itself, which, while well designed, doesn’t feel particularly exotic or expensive to make.
The company said it priced the NexStride to be competitive with other options, which it easily outperforms while still maintaining US manufacturing, which inevitably pushes costs up a bit.
While a full retail sale sounds like a lot, any veteran can get NexStride for free from VA, which is definitely a vote of confidence from an institution that serves the many people who need it. And the Parkinson Health Foundation can cover half to the full cost through grants.
With an aging population that is healthy and mobile, devices like this could elude healthcare providers and become more and more common consumer gadgets. After all, Parkinson’s disease can affect people even before middle age, and you know these demographics will make a lot of comparison shopping.
The $2.8 million seed round, which will go towards expanding De Oro’s operations and distributing the device to more people, was led by True Wealth Ventures with participation from AARP, StartUp Health, Capital Factory, Wai Mohala Ventures, Kachuwa Impact Fund, Barton. Investments, HealthTech Capital, Wealthing VC Club, Rockies VC and Mentors Fund. So far, the company has raised $1.5 million.
The funding and innovation here is a reminder that there are many frontiers on which to build a startup, and many less visible individuals and groups that can benefit from even seemingly mundane advances in technology.
Credit: techcrunch.com /