BUT ACTIVATING the brain is just a part of the key, explains the burly, 6-foot-6-inch Danilov, a native of Russia.
People in the research study are also exercising the function that has been impaired. “You start to exercise balance, [then] balance improves,” Danilov says. “If you exercise memory and attention, these functions improve. You exercise what you need to exercise. The issue becomes how to focus this activity on the area or deficiency that you want to fix.”
Along with his voice, Husmann’s balance and ability to walk have improved — in fact, the cane he once used is gathering dust.
And he’s not the only one whose balance and ability to walk have improved as a result of the intervention in Danilov’s lab.
Wendy Machi of West Allis, Wis., went to Danilov’s lab in January. Having lived with MS since 1983, the 47-year-old mother of three had been struggling with balance. “Closing my eyes and standing was virtually impossible for me. I would immediately start to tip over and fall,” she says.
During her two weeks at the lab, her regimen consisted of twice-daily 20-minute sessions that mixed balance exercises and walking on a treadmill while the tongue stimulator was in her mouth.
“I can close my eyes for 20 minutes, even longer, without falling over. The first time I did that and knew no one was helping me, I started crying, because I hadn’t done that for so many years,” Machi says.
Fifty-year-old Angel Tucker of Byron, Ill., has a similar story.
“Before, it was like there was no hope,” she says. Prior to this, I was just going downhill, to the point where I had my dad’s walker ready for use. [But] after the first three days [of the study], my outlook changed … I could walk. The first week I was in the study, I walked, like, eight miles in a week. I had never done that in my life.”
As impressive as such statements appear, there are still significant scientific questions that Danilov and his colleagues are working to answer. For instance, are the improvements that the participants experience the result of the tongue stimulation or the exercises? To find out, they are now studying the effects of just the exercises alone.
Knowing the answer to this question is vital, as it holds the key to the development of the technology and other neurological problems.
And even as that research is in progress, Danilov and his colleagues are looking at extending their technology to other disorders.
“We want to test as many conditions as we can, and we want to see within any condition how far can we push it,” Kaczmarek says. The one they’re currently testing: Parkinson’s disease. Not only might these efforts hold promise for people with degenerative disorders, but, “from a theoretical point of view, they tell us how capable the brain is in reorganizing itself from a very damaged state,” Kaczmarek explains.
Additionally, they are also working on improving the tongue stimulator from a lab prototype to a commercial device. As for Ron Husmann, at 73, he’s happily retired with no plans to sing again professionally. But these days, when he wants to sing to himself, he can.