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Understanding mobility becomes a "virtual" reality at Lawson

Research assessing the impact of technology on patients with Parkinson’s disease

August 1, 2012

Lawson Health Research Institute hopes to "virtually" change how patients with Parkinson’s disease navigate the world. Dr. Mandar Jog, a Scientist at Lawson and Western University, is using virtual reality to help assess how patients perform everyday activities.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease struggle with multitasking. Activities like answering the door or getting out of bed involve a number of decisions about task and direction that can be overwhelming. This puts them at high risk for falls and reduced mobility.

Most research is limited to assessing isolated movements, such as walking back and forth in a straight line. To capture the complexities of everyday tasks, Dr. Jog is using a technology called, "augmented immersion virtual reality (AIVR)." AIVR allows patients to perform real-life tasks, like cooking or shopping, within a simulated environment.

In this particular project, Dr. Jog’s team is testing patients’ ability to conduct three everyday tasks: watering plants in their home, crossing the street at a cross-walk, and selecting particular items from a grocery store shelf. Each environment has been created virtually by his team, and is then transmitted to patients through a set of virtual reality goggles. As patients move around the room, the goggles "read" a series of sensors and markers that indicate where the walls, windows, and other objects are located. Real objects, such as the cereal box and the watering can are also placed within the room for the patients to interact with. Patients are also equipped with sensors and tools to measure their balance, gait, and other data.

Dr. Mandar Jog

As this research project unfolds, Dr. Jog and his team will assess how patients with Parkinson’s disease perform within each virtual scenario and whether their performance improves with repetition. He will also assess whether the technology impedes users’ performance in any way, such as by altering their sense of balance.

"The ability to interact with technology has already entered our daily lives with devices such as the smart phone and tablet computers," Dr. Jog says. "We are now entering a new and innovative world of augmented virtual reality to help aid in improving how rehabilitation is provided to patients with degenerative neurological disorders."