A Pakistani student entrepreneur whose grandfather was debilitated by Parkinson’s disease has created a mobility aid to improve the lives of other patients with the condition. Neha Shahid Chaudhry was inspired to invent a “smart” walking stick after witnessing her late grandfather struggle with the disease for seven years, repeatedly suffering falls when his joints seized up.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition the loss of nerve cells in the brain causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s to appear. One person in every 500 has Parkinson’s that is about 127,000 people in the UK. The disease is not fatal but it puts the strain on the body and it is hard to live with it. Parkinsons usually targets people above the age of 50. Men are more likely to get Parkinson’s.
During her study at University of West England (UWE), Neha thought about developing a treatment to the disease of Parkinson that has caused 12,500 patients in Britain alone. Neha closely observed this disease when her father was a victim of this ailment. Due to the seizure of his muscles, her father received some serious injuries in addition to becoming unable to walk.
The stick brings about a movement in the frozen muscles of a patient. As a result, it empowers them to walk again. It is pertinent to mention that the stick has been designed in such a manner that it remains convenient for the patients to use. The design of the stick is simple and plain.
“I wanted to design something that was aesthetically pleasing and discreet, so I could solve a problem in an almost secret way”
The newly-developed treatment has already been tested on plenty of people in England. Both Parkinson’s organization in England and National Health Services (NHS) have exhibited immense interest in Neha’s impeccable project. Unsurprisingly, Neha has also formed her own company by the name of ‘Walk to Beat’. The young prodigy from Pakistan said:
“When the patients were given the sticks they were overcome with immediate joy. Majority of them expressed satisfaction that the stick does actually work”
A light-weighted stick which is made of plastic is easy to carry around. Additionally, the sensors which are installed in the stick activates the muscles of patients with Parkinson who are then able to walk again on their feet.
Neha, who is now studying for a Masters degree in marketing at UWE Bristol, said: “My granddad had this disease for seven years so I knew a bit about it – that was my starting point. He used to freeze a lot and had a lot of injuries because of falling.
“He used to get really happy when he had good days, when he was able to walk without a stick. But we wouldn’t let him out alone. He once fell in the road and had a major injury.”
Social enterprise Walk to Beat is based in the technology incubator at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus, where she received support in developing her walking stick’s sensor and producing a final prototype device from the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF).
Farid Dailami, an Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing based in the RIF, said: “We are delighted to have helped Neha take her idea from a very brief outline to a fully functioning prototype that she has used to show off the feasibility of her original concepts. The Walk to Beat walking stick can make a real difference to the lives of people suffering from Parkinson’s, and we are looking forward to providing further support and helping realize its potential.”
Neha has also received assistance from UWE Enterprise, which helps students and recent graduates set up and run businesses. She was awarded a £15,000 grant from UWE Bristol’s Better Together Fund to take her idea from concept to reality.
Mhairi Threlfall, Enterprise Development Manager at UWE Bristol, said: “Neha’s passion driven by personal experience to tackling problems associated with Parkinson’s is astounding. She has worked tirelessly to produce her product and develop her business plan. We are supporting her now to look at how this fantastic creation can be commercialized.”