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Augmented reality makes Parkinson’s disease physical therapy more accessible



An augmented reality (AR) headset is an effective digital tool for improving posture and gait in people with Parkinson’s disease, a recent Cleveland Clinic trial has found.

AR allows users to complete digital programmes projected into the world around them.

The “Dual-task augmented Reality Treatment” (DART) uses the Microsoft HoloLens2 to run patients through dual-task training (DTT).

The series of tasks is designed to engage the brain and body simultaneously.

Activities are designed to counter Parkinson’s disease’s effect on the areas of the brain that control mental and physical tasks.

DTT helps address the lack of balance and stability that can lead to falls or difficulty moving, study first author, Jay Alberts, PhD, Center for Neurological Restoration, said.

This therapy, although effective, isn’t widely used because of the time and resources it takes to measure patient progress and personalise a programme, among other limitations.

Instead of a human therapist, the DART programme uses a digital avatar named Donna, named after Dr Alberts’s mother.

The patient puts on the AR headset and sees Donna in their line of sight.

The patient then hears instructions through the headset, which tracks their movements and responses.

Donna guides the exercises and demonstrates movements, with the headset collecting data for clinicians to review and use to design future sessions.

Dr Alberts said:

“A digital platform that completes some of these tasks, down to collecting tiny alterations to someone’s stride, can help us standardise and implement DTT.

“The trial shows that using an AR headset or physical therapist directed DTT produces similar improvements in gait and postural stability.”

Training can improve posture and stability and prevent falls or “freezing,” with some examples of DTT activities including:

  • 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

DART can create more than 230 combinations of DTT activities.

The clinical trial of just under 50 people compared results from participants in sessions led by an in-person therapist and those using the DART platform.

Both groups showed comparable, clinically-significant improvement after the therapy.

Retention was also high for both groups, addressing another potential concern with implementing the therapy.

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

He added:

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

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

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