Expanding University Initiatives
Brain Health Research Institute

Smartbike Eases Parkinson’s Symptoms

Angela Ridgel, Ph.D, Associate Director of the Brain Health Research Institute and health sciences professor, has designed a piece of physical therapy equipment for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative and motor system disorders.

Ridgel, who is an avid cyclist, has designed a bicycle specially tailored to Parkinson’s patients. The bike is based on a tandem bicycle model – a bike ridden by two people.She and Jay Alberts, Ph.D., the Bell Family Endowed Chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, came up with the idea. Alberts, also a cyclist, told Ridgel of a tandem ride he was on with a cyclist who suffered from Parkinson’s.

“She told him that when she rides on a tandem with him, she doesn’t feel like she has Parkinson’s,” Ridgel says.

Ridgel says that is because cyclists try to maintain a high pedal cadence, and in tandem riding, one cyclist drives the cadence for the other one. Ridgel says speed made the difference. “We’re retraining the nervous system to work faster and more efficiently,” she said.

The computer-driven bike reacts to the patient’s progress and records the results, then adjusts the exercise regimen to help that specific patient progress.

“It dynamically alters the set speed to create the variation in cadence like you’d have on an actual tandem bike ride, that is necessary to yield improvement results, which is really unique,” Ridgel says. “Nobody else has done that.”

Ridgel said the grant has run out, but the numbers clearly show that the research should continue.

While the treatment is not “one-size-fits-all,” she said that with further research, trainers could determine and even predict what exercise regimen an individual patient would need. Additionally, the results from the Parkinson’s study have major implications for possible treatment among patients suffering from other ailments, such as stroke or multiple sclerosis.

“We’re retraining the nervous system to work more efficiently, so we can use that paradigm to work on any neurological condition,” she says. “We have the data. We just need the funding.”