May 12, 2020 | 6min read
HealthTech for Safe Movement—Interview with Lise Pape
A few weeks ago, we wrote an article about the top 10 wearable startups in 2020. Our list featured Walk With Path, a company helping those with Parkinson’s disease and neuropathy caused by diabetes. To discuss Positive Tech in healthcare, we talked to the founder of Walk With Path—Lise Pape.
Walk With Path is a startup company, established almost six years ago. The idea behind it is based on my final degree project when I was studying Innovation Design Engineering.
For my final project, I decided to explore issues of the daily life of living with chronic movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. I was interested in that because my father has Parkinson’s. Moreover, I got my bachelor’s in human biology, so I was interested in other ways of applying medical science into design principles. It was a user-centered design process, exploring the problem with users and developing concepts. Then, quickly trying to test them. In design, you use a fake-it-before-you-make principle: you must test it to make sure the concept works before you actually make it. That’s how we set up Walk With Path.
Most people associate Parkinson’s disease with the shaking of the hands. Could you tell us what the Freezing of Gait (FoG) and shuffling are?
Yes, when I say “Parkinson’s,” people always think of tremor. “Freezing of Gait” is experienced by about half of people with Parkinson’s, but it’s not so well-known in the general public. A person with Parkinson’s describes it as suddenly feeling glued to the floor and unable to step forward. It can happen at different times during the day, and typically at home. It’s usually triggered by a small narrow space like a doorway or turning around a table. It’s considered very debilitating because people are frozen, unable to move forward. In this good scenario, they have to be patient, but in the worst case, they would fall, and it can be dangerous. In fact, this freezing symptom leads to about 70% of falls in Parkinson’s—it’s a massive contributor to something very devastating for an individual.
The Path Finder is a laser shoe-attachment that is rubber-strapped onto somebody’s shoe. The attachment projects a laser line on the floor in front of the opposite foot. That way, you have a static projection during walking. The cueing is provided in a step-synchronized way. The reason that this works for the symptom is that it provides a rhythm, and the cue activates the brain in a way. People with Parkinson’s don’t necessarily lack the ability to walk, they cannot often initiate walking. This is what Path Finder gives them. To give you an example, people with Parkinson’s with this symptom walk well on staircases. Path Finder provides a similar level of rhythm, and so this is essentially a staircase concept, but wearable and a mobile one, so you can take it anywhere.
Path Finder is a medical device. We have proven evidence of it working as desired. Another study that we will do right now is more about looking at the economics of it. Essentially, how the Path Finder could affect the NHS trust spending for these patients.
The Path Feel is an insole that provides vibrational stimuli to the soles of the feet during walking to improve balance. It’s intended for loss of feeling in the feet and balance problems, for instance, for the elderly who are at risk of falls, but also for people with diabetes who can have neuropathy—a lack of sensitivity at the bottom of your feet. When you step onto the floor, you actually don’t know that you are in contact with the floor. It becomes quite difficult to move in a stable and safe way.
When Path Feel launches, we will have a connected app. We have one at the moment for user testing purposes. Essentially, the application will track and monitor your gait. The gathered data can be a great insight for further treatments.
With your experience in finance and management, what would your advice be to other entrepreneurs? What was your greatest obstacle from the founder’s perspective?
There’s a lot of people out there who want to give advice, and a lot of them are not entrepreneurs themselves. They can be really helpful in specific areas, but I think there is a danger, especially in some stages of your business. If you listen to everyone, you will have conflicting advice and not know whose opinion to consider. Sometimes you need to listen to yourself. I think the most important people are going to be the customers and the end-users of your solution and you have to pick and choose the advice you take from others.
The biggest challenge with the Path Feel is that we have an insole that has to fit into your shoes. Considering our user group, because they are older, we want to make it as intuitive as possible, so we have incorporated everything in the insole, including battery and other pieces. This is incredibly challenging engineering-wise because we’re operating in such a small place and a high-intensity environment. When people are walking in creates pressure on the insoles, or the feet begin to sweat. We are operating in a difficult environment, with a very limited amount of footprint available.
The main thing affecting us during COVID-19 is the delay with our clinical studies in Manchester and with NHS trust.
We’re also a bit delayed with some suppliers. We try to manage by planning that in and factoring it in a little bit in our work. A lot of work at the moment is R&D, so it’s internalized, which doesn’t get impacted.
As a result of COVID-19, we have made a big effort to try and reach out to our users more and help them to get the best experience of the product in their home while they’re confined.
As for the plans for the future, a big piece of work for us will be this clinical study in Manchester that is about to embark. It’s a really important piece because it’s our first proper study of that size with the insole product.
At Polidea, we believe in Positive Tech and share stories like yours. What’s your take on the technology influencing our daily lives to a continuously growing extent?
I think, to be honest, that the COVID-19 situation has taught us many things about how we can be connected in a good way with others. We’re using video platforms all day, and it’s still a fairly personal experience. I think it’s definitely going to change the way that we work and the way we rely on wearables to track us. Especially medical professionals are using more and more online tools right now to engage with patients who need a ride to general practitioner’s appointments. I do think that the use of wearables will increase because it will become more and more accepted and that’s generally a good thing.
On the other hand, there are so many wearables on the market that track things, and I think it’s important to have devices that make sense, that actually offer a real impact on the end-user. Ideally, in a very frequent way. That’s what we want to achieve by providing benefits in real-time as people walk.
Founder, Walk With Path Limited