Virtual device for Parkinson’s gait

Melbourne: Scientists claim they may have found a new way to help the Parkinson`s disease patients who experience walking problems.

A team at the University of Sydney says its hopes to use a simulated virtual reality environment to help patients suffering from the phenomenon known as "freezing of gait" ie, FOG which affects over half of all Parkinson`s patients, and is triggered by having to walk through narrow doorways.

"Patients experiencing FOG suddenly feel like their feet have been glued to floor as they try to walk, often causing them to fall," Dr Simon Lewis, who led the team, said.

Using a new magnetic resonance scanner, the team devised a realistic virtual reality (VR) environment with a series of corridors and doorways, which patients navigate using foot pedals.

"Our preliminary results show that patients with FOG have a delay in their stepping pattern when passing though doorways in the VR. We didn`t see this in patients without FOG or in healthy control subjects," Dr Lewis said.

He added: "Furthermore, we have been able to correlate the amount of freezing experienced in VR with that observed during physical assessment in the clinic. Finally, as VR allows patients to walk whilst lying down we have even been able to use our novel brain scanning technique to see what is going on in the brain during freezing episodes.

He said that the findings have their potential application to therapy as currently FOG does not respond well to available treatments.


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