Researchers may have hit upon a new way of helping Parkinson’s victims who face difficulty in walking. They are hoping to use a simulated virtual reality environment to help patients suffering from the phenomenon known as ‘freezing of gait’ (FOG). FOG affects over half of all Parkinson’s patients, and is commonly 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,” said Simon Lewis, director, Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI), University of Sydney. Using a new magnetic resonance (MR) scanner, the BMRI team collaborated with Southern Radiology to devise a virtual reality (VR) environment with a series of corridors and doorways, which patients navigate using foot pedals, according to a Sydney statement.
“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,” Lewis said. ”What is truly exciting about these findings is their potential application to therapy. Currently, FOG does not respond well to available treatments,” he said. However, exercising in VR may offer a potential way of improving symptoms without the need for medications or surgery, Lewis concluded.