£300 buzzer that keeps Parkinson's patients on the move
£300 buzzer that keeps Parkinson’s patients like the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones on the move
- Ex-BBC man Rory Cellan-Jones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2019
- The 65-year-old journalist started wearing the CUE1 buzzer five months ago
A vibrating patch the size and shape of a small yo-yo could help reduce movement problems in people with Parkinson’s disease.
The device is worn on the sternum and emits a high-frequency ‘buzz’ when pressed, stimulating the nervous system and parts of the brain responsible for motor and balance control.
Parkinson’s is a neurological condition which leads to sufferers often experiencing rigid muscles that cause the person to freeze.
Some say the UK-designed gadget has enabled them to walk with more ease, and even allowed them to dance again. Others claim it helps them feel more relaxed and improves sleep.
Called CUE1, it is being used by former BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019 and is hoping for similar benefits. The 65-year-old, who calls the CUE1 his ‘Parkinson’s buzzer’, began wearing the device when it was launched five months ago.
Former BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, has been wearing a £300 device for the past five months which he believes can lessen the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease
Rory, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019, is one of 145,000 Britons with the disease
Cellan-Jones is charting his progress on his blog, and says he has read stories of dramatic improvements on a private Facebook group for CUE1 users.
He wrote in a recent post: ‘One woman about my age and recently diagnosed had been depressed that her favourite pastime, dancing, would now be closed to her because of poor balance and embarrassment about her tremor.
‘But her CUE1 arrived, she found her balance improved, and soon she was off to a jive party. Others reported positive impacts on sleep and one carer said, “Already at this early stage it seems to be a game-changer for my dad and combats his freezing.” ’
Charco Neurotech, makers of CUE1, say 138 Britons suffering from Parkinson’s have now been fitted with the stick-on device – and there are a further 8,000 patients around the world on the waiting list.
It’s not currently available on the NHS and costs £295 – but Charco says it will refund anyone who is not satisfied. Since launching the CUE1 in October, one in ten users has so far asked for a refund.
Dr Lucy Chung, co-founder and CEO of Charco, said: ‘We’re bowled over by how much of an improvement it is giving patients.’
There are more than 140,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK. Along with movement difficulties, it causes tremors or shaking in the hands or other parts of the body, depression and anxiety, loss of sense of smell and memory loss. It occurs when parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. Doctors are still unsure what triggers Parkinson’s and there is currently no cure, but sufferers are offered physiotherapy and take drugs that can reduce the main symptoms.
Parkinson’s symptoms are assessed by doctors using a scoring system called the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, which indicates the severity of the disease with a score out of 199.
Drugs usually improve scores by about three to four points, but in small pilot studies, the CUE1 has seen scores improve by around nine points – comparable to the benefits of deep brain stimulation, an operation given to some Parkinson’s patients that involves electrodes being implanted in the skull. Larger trials are under way.
Charco Neurotech, makers of CUE1, say 138 Britons suffering from Parkinson’s have now been fitted with the stick-on device – and there are a further 8,000 patients around the world on the waiting list
Helen Loveday, 79, from Rainford, Merseyside, bought the device last November after struggling for several years with ‘freezing’ when she got up to walk around her home
The device uses a rechargeable battery-powered motor to produce its buzz, the intensity and tempo of which can be calibrated via a smartphone app. The pulsing vibrations, known as vibrotactile stimulation, trigger sensory nerve impulses that travel to the brain, stimulating areas that control muscle movement. ‘It helps put the body in a ready-to-move state, while reducing stiffness and slowness,’ says Dr Chung.
‘We advise patients to use it as and when they need – for instance, if they’re suffering symptoms of stiffness or rigidity, or if they freeze. Some leave it switched on all day. On a full charge, the battery lasts for up to eight hours.’
Cellan-Jones doesn’t yet know if he is one of the large proportion of patients the device has helped.
‘Some days I feel I’m walking better than others – but it’s hard to say whether that is because I’ve taken my drugs more recently or is thanks to the stimulating from the gadget,’ he says.
Helen Loveday, 79, from Rainford, Merseyside, bought the device last November after struggling for several years with ‘freezing’ when she got up to walk around her home.
The former secretary, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2017, she also struggled with being able to turn around once she had reached somewhere and wanted to return.
She says: ‘I found the freezing distressing. I’d stop suddenly as I got up to go somewhere and then I had to wait so I could start walking again. And then I would freeze again. It took ages to walk anywhere in the house and was having a huge impact on my confidence.’
Helen, who lives with her partner David, 78, uses the CUE1 whenever she needs to walk.
‘You can feel a tiny vibration – a bit like a cat purring on your chest – and hear a quiet buzzing noise.
‘It doesn’t work for some people, but I can’t speak highly enough of it. I didn’t think anything was going to be able to help me. The drugs I take are meant to help with the freezing but it was still happening. Now I feel an enormous relief that I can get around.’
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