The digital tool enhancing much needed physiotherapy access for those impacted by Parkinson’s disease

An AR headset will enhance physiotherapy for Parkinson's patients. Source: Getty Images.

One of the biggest obstacles to alleviating the effects of Parkinson’s disease is access to consistent physiotherapy but a newly developed technology is about to change all of that for those impacted by the disease.

Following a clinical trial in Cleveland, USA where findings were published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, it was found that an augmented reality (AR) headset could assist in improving posture and gait for people who have Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that affects approximately 219,000 Australians. Symptoms include tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, loss of automatic movements, speech and writing changes.

Postural inability and gait dysfunctions especially are typical symptoms of the disease and are intensified under dual-task conditions – when a person is required to do two things at the same time like walking and talking.

AR allows viewers to see images superimposed onto the real environment. The AR headset delivers a “Dual-task augmented Reality Treatment (DART)” that runs patients through several tasks or Dual Task Training (DTT) designed to engage the both brain and body.

An avatar called Donna appears in their line of sight, giving them instructions and guidance through their DTT exercises which include the following:

  • Stepping forward when you hear an even number, stepping back on an odd number
  • Waving when a light is green, crouching when it’s red
  • Remembering a series of numbers while walking forward or navigating a digital obstacle course
Source: Getty Images.

The headset also tracks their movements and responses and gathers data for clinicians to review and use to design future sessions.

Jay Alberts (PhD) from the Centre for Neurological Restoration and the study’s first author said the DTT helps address the lack of balance and stability that can lead to falls or difficulty moving.

Alberts went on to say that this type of therapy, although effective, isn’t widely used because of the time and resources it takes to measure patient progress and personalise a program, among other limitations.

50 people participated in the clinical trial which included sessions led by an in-person therapist and those using the DART platform. Results showed that both groups showed comparable improvements after the therapy and retention was high for both groups.

Alberts stated, “DART is not meant to take the place of a physical therapist, but to serve as technology to enable more widespread use of DTT”.

“People diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease often balance physical therapy, new medications and specialist appointments with their lives and families, which is overwhelming,” he added.

“Our goal is to make DTT more accessible, removing one more obstacle for patients who want to improve their daily lives.”

Parkinson’s disease can be particularly challenging for people over the age of 60, as the symptoms of the disease can make daily activities more difficult, and the risk of falls increases.

As people age, they may experience a natural decline in cognitive abilities, making it difficult to distinguish Parkinson’s disease symptoms from age-related changes. This can lead to a delayed diagnosis, making it even more important for seniors to stay informed and alert to the potential symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop gradually over time and can vary from person to person.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

Tremors: Tremors are one of the most noticeable symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. They usually begin in the hands and can be most prominent at rest.

Rigidity: Rigidity refers to stiffness or inflexibility of the muscles. It can make movements difficult and uncomfortable.

Bradykinesia: Bradykinesia is a slowness of movement, which can make simple tasks such as getting dressed, writing or eating, take longer than usual.

Postural instability: Postural instability can cause difficulty in maintaining balance, resulting in falls.

Cognitive and mood changes: Parkinson’s disease can also affect cognitive abilities such as memory and concentration, and can also cause mood changes, such as depression and anxiety.

Speech difficulties: Parkinson’s disease can also cause changes in speech, including slurred or soft speech, and difficulty in expressing words.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.




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