Virtual reality helps MS patients walk better
10 May 2007
Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have created a
virtual reality device that combines auditory and visual feedback to improve
walking speed and stride length in patients suffering from Multiple
Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease.
The device combines a wearable, cell phone-sized audio component — which
measures body movement, processes it and sends feedback to the user through
earphones — with a visual feedback apparatus previously developed for
The visual component presents users with a virtual, tiled-floor image
displayed on one eye via a tiny piece that clips onto glasses worn by the
user. This allows the user to distinguish between the virtual floor and real
obstacles, making it possible to navigate even rough terrain or stairs.
Lead researcher Professor Yoram Baram of the Faculty of Computer Science
and Prof. Ariel Miller of the Faculty of Medicine and the Multiple Sclerosis
and Brain Research Center at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa examined the
effects of the patented device on the gait quality of MS patients.
The researchers found that auditory feedback significantly improved the
gait of both MS and Parkinson’s patients (though the improvement was less
pronounced in Parkinson’s patients). With regard to walking speed, patients
showed an average improvement of 12.84% while wearing the device. There were
also positive residual short-term therapeutic effects (18.75% improvement)
after use. Average improvement in stride was 8.30% while wearing the device
and 9.93% residually.
“Healthy people have other tools, such as sensory feedback from muscles
nerves, which report on muscle control, telling them whether or not they are
using their muscles correctly,” says Baram. “This feedback is damaged in
Parkinson and MS patients and the elderly, but auditory feedback can be used
to help them walk at a fixed pace.”
Results from a small study (14 randomly selected patients with gait
disturbances predominantly due to MS) on the device are published in the
February 2007 issue of the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.
The integrated device — the first to respond to the patient’s motions
rather than just providing fixed visual or auditory cues — is already in use
at a number of medical centres in Israel and the United States, including
the University of Cincinnati and the State University of New York.