Cleveland Clinic Researchers Develop and Test a Virtual Reality Experience to Improve Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative conditions

Could a stroll through the grocery store help identify early signs of Parkinson’s? Cleveland Clinic researchers developed a virtual reality experience to see if neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, can be identified before symptoms start.

The research team is now studying the immersive virtual reality platform, which combines an omnidirectional treadmill with state-of-the-art VR technology. They are exploring if can be used to identify early stage Parkinson’s and better treat freezing of gait in patients with the disease.

They recently published findings this week in JoVE journal that it is feasible and tolerable for older patients with Parkinson’s disease. It also reduced a traditional side effect of VR technology which tends to trigger nausea due to sensory inconsistencies.

In the study, they developed the Cleveland Clinic Virtual Grocery Store Task, in which a patient wears a VR headset and walks on the treadmill to navigate through a virtual grocery story. The platform provides objective and quantitative biomechanical and cognitive outcomes related to the user’s performance on activities of daily living.

“You can think of it as a treadmill on a thousand treadmills,” says Jay Alberts, PhD, staff in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Neurological Restoration and Department of Biomedical Engineering, whose lab recently developed the new VR platform. “The design of the omnidirectional treadmill allows a subject with a VR headset to experience the same somatosensory information and sensations that they experience during real-world walking, which allows them to physically explore the virtual world they are in without experiencing nausea or similar discomfort .”

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