Predicting gait problems

Data Fusion to Detect the Relationship between structural and functional connectivity to and from brainstem segmentations and gait measures in Parkinson's disease to predict the outcome of DBS treatment

Dr. Kevin Yen
Movement Disorder Fellow
University of Alberta
Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
$50,000 over 1 year

When Dr. Kevin Yen speaks of his desire to specialize in treating Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, he recalls a patient he saw as a first-year resident.

As a resident, he lacked training and experience with Parkinson’s. That lack of knowledge prevented Yen and his colleagues from realizing that a woman they had diagnosed with Parkinson’s had multiple systems atrophy – a rare and more aggressive disease that can present like Parkinson’s.

“A year later, she had deteriorated really quickly, and her quality of life was not great,” he remembers.

Although there were no treatment options, the delay in diagnosis meant the woman didn’t have access to supportive therapies they could have offered.

“If we had just found out earlier, we could have made a lot of changes,” Yen says.

Yen’s experience with that patient sparked his interest in learning all he can about Parkinson’s, and in conducting research to improve people’s quality of life, especially concerning difficulties in walking.

Yen – now a neurologist – is spending a year as a clinical movement disorder fellow at the University of Alberta to learn more about surgical options and other ways to treat people with Parkinson’s effectively.

“Having an additional year to focus on clinical and research aspects can make a big difference to your understanding of what Parkinson’s involves,” he says.

During his fellowship, Yen will use MRI scans and special walkways that analyze the gait of people with Parkinson’s. With the brain scans and the gait analysis, he hopes to pinpoint the specific areas in the brain that may be affecting gait when people have Parkinson’s.

Eventually, Yen hopes his findings can be used as a biomarker to predict which patients will eventually develop gait problems and falls. That information would help doctors refer patients for physical and occupational therapy and walking aids sooner, helping them stay independent at home as long as possible and preventing further injury and disability.

He’s motivated by thoughts of the length of time most patients live with Parkinson’s, and their families. Earlier interventions by neurologists who understand the many ways Parkinson’s is affecting their lives could help people live better with the disease, Yen says.

“This disease is so much more than just being stiff and slow,” he adds. “This is about every aspect of how a person will live for decades to come.”

How your support made this research project possible

Yen believes it's important for people to donate to Parkinson's research because of the breadth and scope of unanswered questions about the disease that remain.

"There are all these questions, and at the end of the day, we have so few answers," he says. "We need more awareness, and more resources to improve on what we already know and what we are capable of."

"Anything and everything help."

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