The latest technological development is put to good use in medicine and helps patients that suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease
improve their walk speed and distance.
The device, developed by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scientists, combines audio and visual feedback to improve the patients' reactions and overall stride length.
For the auditory signals, it uses a device similar to a cellphone in size which measures body movement and uses earphones to send feedback after processing the information.
The visual feedback device is one already developed 10 years ago for patients suffering from Parkinson's disease and produces a virtual tiled-floor image displayed on one eye through a small piece attached on the glasses worn by the patient. So, he can distinguish the real obstacle from the virtual background to navigate even rough terrain or stairs.
Lead researcher Professor Yoram Baram of the Faculty of Computer Science and Professor 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 device on the patients with Multiple Sclerosis.
Although more pronounced in these patients than in those suffering from Parkinson's, in 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."
Practicing limb movements in a virtual world can provide a more stimulating environment to relieve the boredom of repetitive tasks, being a representation of an environment with which the patient is familiar, such as a kitchen, living room or supermarket.
It is the first device to respond to the patient's motions rather than just providing fixed visual or auditory input, like older applications and is already in use at a number of medical centers in Israel and the United States, including the University of Cincinnati and the State University of New York.