One of the challenges faced by people with Parkinson’s disease is the possibility of “freezing up” during normal movements, causing falls and lack of mobility. Surprisingly, small external signals can help them evade blockages or avoid them altogether – and De Oro has raised $2.8 million to market its NexStride wearable gadget, which provides these signals on demand.
The easiest way to understand freezing is that the normal pathway in your body’s brain, turning the impulse to “walk forward” into actual movement, is not activating properly. This can lead to slow or stopped movement despite the willingness of his limbs to move as they normally do.
Studies have found a surprisingly effective technique to prevent this: spotting. When a person sees or hears an external cue associated with moving forward, it activates a different pathway to move forward, bringing the person out of the frozen state.
De Oro’s device provides two such signals. One is a small metronome-like ding that tricks the brain into thinking about moving in time rather than stepping forward step by step. The second is a laser-projected line just in front of the user’s feet that seems to activate the idea of stepping over or over something rather than just “forward”.
The NexStride attaches to a walker or cane using a small extendable loop like a bicycle headlight, with a wired controller that can be placed in a convenient location for the user. Hardware dials on the main unit allow them to control the volume and tempo of the metronome, as well as the position of the laser line.
There are numerous studies on the effectiveness of this approach in the lab, and the company surveyed its customers, finding that a large majority were able to move with more confidence and less fear. Clinicians they’ve worked with recommend the device to clients as a handy catch-all way to improve mobility.
There are a few items like this, like the walker equipped with a laser and U-Step sound. But the U-Step is built into the rollator itself: a bulky, heavy item that’s not particularly suitable for use outside the home, and certainly not something someone with reduced mobility could throw away. in the trunk. As is often the case with accessibility hardware, there’s a lot of stuff left over from decades past.
The advantage of the NexStride is that it’s self-contained and portable – people often have a favorite cane or walker and the gadget can be attached to almost anything and switched on in minutes. “NexStride doesn’t force people to compromise on the choice between their preferred mobility aid and access to these effective visual and auditory cues,” said De Oro Founder and CEO Sidney Collin.
Manual operation was a design choice driven by feedback; users and clinicians have recommended it over the automatic approach NexStride first attempted, which presumably would have activated the laser or sound when the person stopped moving. It turns out that people like to be in control, especially those for whom control is a daily medical issue.
The only sticking point is the retail price: a somewhat mind-blowing $500, not yet covered by insurance. While it’s not the most expensive medical or mobility device, it’s a bit difficult to reconcile the sticker price with the device itself, which, while well-designed, doesn’t doesn’t seem particularly exotic or expensive to build.
The company said it priced the NexStride to be competitive with other available options, which it easily outperforms, while retaining US manufacturing, which necessarily increases costs somewhat. .
While full retail seems like a lot, any veteran can get a NexStride for free from the VA, which is definitely a vote of confidence from an institution that serves a lot of people in need. And the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund can cover half to all of the costs through grants.
With an aging, healthy and mobile population, devices like this could elude medical providers and become more of a mainstream consumer gadget. After all, Parkinson’s can affect people even before middle age, and you know demographics will make a lot of comparisons.
The $2.8 million round, which will be used to expand De Oro’s operations and bring the device to more people, was led by True Wealth Ventures, with participation from AARP, StartUp Health, Capital Factory, Wai Mohala Ventures, Kachuwa Impact Fund, Barton Investments, HealthTech Capital, Wealthing VC Club, Rockies VC and Mentors Fund. The company raised $1.5 million before that.
The funding and innovation here reminds us that there are many borders on which to base a startup and many less visible people and groups who could benefit from even the most ordinary technological advances.