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Many people with Parkinson's disease experience gait freezing and falls. Explore patient experiences, common causes of freezing and tips to prevent falls.

Parkinson’s disease gait-freezing triggers + fall prevention

Gait freezing and falls are common among people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Take a closer look at patients’ experiences, common triggers of freezing and tips that may help prevent falls.

What is known about freezing and falls?

Researchers and movement experts have been studying gait freezing in people with PD for several decades. The exact cause of freezing is unknown, but experts believe it’s caused by PD’s effects on parts of the brain that control motor movement, such as the basal ganglia or part of the right side of the brain.

Common triggers of gait freezing may include:

  • Crowded environments or tight spaces
  • Turning corners, going around furniture or objects, or changing direction
  • Entering doorways, crossing over thresholds (especially from outdoors to inside), or changes in flooring (for example, from tile or wood to carpet)
  • Distraction or multi-tasking, such as walking and talking or carrying objects
  • Anxiety (initial research shows that this common symptom in people with PD may play a role in freezing, but further studies are needed)

Some tips and tricks may help “thaw” episodes of freezing (but every person is different, so talk with a movement specialist or physical therapist about what might work for you):

  • Visual cues — Giving yourself a visual hint may help your brain (and feet) know where to step, according to movement disorder specialists at the University of Florida Health. Visual cues include lasers on canes and U-step walkers, placing lines of tape on the floor, and stepping over the foot of another person . Some Dutch researchers are even working on laser sneakers for people with PD.
  • Auditory cues — Listening to music, counting out loud (like “1, 2, 3… 1, 2, 3…”) or using a metronome (or metronome app) can give your brain and body a rhythm to step to (check out this blog post about how Pamela Quinn, a professional dancer with PD, uses auditory cues to walk).
  • Practicing pivoting or changing direction — Check out this video, for example.
  • Check out these additional fall prevention tips — take note of potential household hazards, such as electrical cords, throw rugs or clutter on the floor.
  • Talk with your doctor about any freezing or falls you’ve experienced.Besides freezing, other factors that may cause falls include delayed reaction time, rigidity, bradykinesia, poor balance and even dehydration.

Taking your medication on time and working with your doctor to reduce “off” times is also important in preventing freezing.

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