‘Gait’ leaps from lab to clinic

A new device called DataGait has been developed by researchers in Oxford to allow the rapid and easy analysis of a patient’s gait – how someone walks – in any health clinic anywhere. It does this to a level of precision only available previously in specialist gait laboratories and at a fraction of the cost per patient. The scientists at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK, believe that DataGait will for the first time turn ‘gait’ into a fully useful clinical indicator in frontline clinics in a range of conditions from Parkinson’s to arthritis. The device is available now for purchase direct from the researchers.

DataGait is a sensor and software package that is so easy to use that patients in any clinic, including those in clinical trials, can be assessed in 15 minutes, yielding a patient throughput of 20-30 a day. Measurements include step time, length and variability, cadence (rhythm), walking speed and symmetry, and energy usage.

The main components of the DataGait device are (i) a wireless motion sensor called an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), which the patient wears on the lower back during a short walk; and (ii) powerful analytical software that radically improves the accuracy achievable with IMUs. The software is pre-loaded onto a laptop supplied as part of the product or it can be used on the customer’s own computer.

As the first portable gait monitor to offer millimetre accuracy, DataGait can be used by clinicians, nurses, physiotherapists, clinical trial investigators and others to detect subtle changes that elude visual inspections and simple walking tests. DataGait can help at an early stage in evaluating patients (e.g. with neurological conditions) and in the regular monitoring of mobility deficits accurately over months and years. The device can also help determine whether a treatment works or not.

DataGait has been validated against an optical motion capture system and was found to produce statistically indistinguishable data for healthy subjects and also for patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Validations in other neurodegenerative disorders are in hand.

This is a technology revolution and the clue is in the name: DataGait gives data of sufficient range and accuracy to permit ‘gait’ to come of age as a non-invasive clinical indicator of wide applicability.

Dr Max Feltham, a research fellow within Oxford Brookes’ Movement Science Group explains: “DataGait was developed in response to a need for accurate gait measurements when assessing a large number of people with and without motor impairments. We have found DataGait to be much quicker to use but as valid and reliable as the gold standard optical motion capture system used in specialised gait laboratories. We are very excited that our system will propel gait as a medical indicator for the wider research and clinical community.”

Another member of the Oxford group, Dr John Hart, adds: “In an independent survey of UK physiotherapists over 90% requested a new gait assessment tool that can be used easily and quickly within a busy schedule without compromising reliability and validity. Here it is.”