VR and Patients with Parkinson’s Disease

Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, computer-generated environment which is experienced through visual, auditory, and sometimes haptic stimuli, wherein your decisions, actions, and movements determine what happens and how you progress through the environment. Through the use of various technological devices, the user sees from the 1st person point of view and has the ability to perform physical movements that correspond to movements in the virtual world. The VR environment can be easily manipulated and personalized to cater to the specific motor deficits that a patient may have.

The patient population that this technology can positively affect is individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Parkinson’s Disease affects a person’s ability to plan, initiate, and control complex movements. 60-80% of these individuals report falls every year, most of which occur during ambulation, as a result of poor obstacle negotiation or avoidance. VR allows for complex movements, such as obstacle negotiation/avoidance, to be trained in unique environments that require focused attention and planning. VR provides a specific stimulus to help facilitate safe and effective movement by requiring more cognitive engagement through visual and auditory cueing.

Some other strengths of training patients with Parkinson’s Disease using VR include dual task training, reproducibility, safety, and it being enjoyable. The weaknesses VR training presents in terms of the technology itself are that equipment is expensive, supervision and guarding is still recommended, and technological proficiency is required. Weaknesses concerning the patient are very minimal, comprising of side effects such as headaches, eye strains, or cybersickness.

A recent study by Mirelman et al. showed how VR can be used in a clinical setting to improve the ability to move and ambulate in a patient with Parkinson’s Disease. This study compared the effects of treadmill training with VR versus treadmill training alone on incidence of falls and various gait parameters. The results showed that treadmill training with VR significantly reduced fall incidence and improved most gait parameters (speed, balance, variability, etc.) compared to treadmill training alone. The improvements were shown immediately after treatment (at 1 week post) and at 1 month and 6 months post treatment, demonstrating retention of gains from the training.

There is an abundance of research being done on the use of VR in healthcare. In the past ten years, there have been about 6,000 peer-reviewed articles published with many patient populations being studied including: post-stroke, pediatrics, patients with chronic pain, patients with burns, and patients with psychiatric/behavioral diagnoses. In terms of patients with Parkinson’s Disease, many of these articles look at how the use of VR in rehabilitation can affect gait, balance, posture, and motor learning. Research is now looking at how to implement the positive effects of VR into more accessible and safe interventions for independent use.

 

 

 

Posted in: Fitness, Health & Wellness

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