Virtual reality rehab

Published On: Apr 03 2014 04:34:02 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 07 2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Imagine stepping foot into a giant video game. That's exactly what patients in Cleveland are doing as rehabilitation for certain neurological diseases.  Sandy Williams is one of them.  It looks and feels like she's part of a video game, but it's actually high tech rehab for her Parkinson's disease.

"We know in neuron-rehabilitation you have to challenge patients for them to get better and so this provides a very safe environment for that to occur," explained  Jay Alberts, Ph.D. with Cleveland Clinic.

The virtual reality treadmill has two belts: one for each foot and a base that moves to mimic different surfaces. It can also react and adjust to a patient's movement. a wrap-around video screen completely immerses the patient into a real-life scenario.

"When I go up a hill you can really feel it in the machine," said Williams.

"Rather than just having the patient walk or an individual walk up and down, you know, a standard bio-mechanical track, now what we can do is change the environment in a very dynamic fashion," said Alberts.

Programs are designed to work on specific skill sets while providing positive feedback. During weekly appointments at Cleveland Clinic, Williams works with her therapist on gait and increasing stride length by touching her toe to a box. Other times she is asked to target birds and butterflies while walking  to help with balance, and it satisfies her competitive spirit.

"I enjoy doing the birds and the butterflies and swatting them down and killing them. Not that I enjoy the killing part but I do enjoy the challenge of can I get them? I know once I slow down it could come to a point where I couldn't move so I am willing to do whatever I can to keep myself going," said Williams.

In addition to Parkinson's disease and MS, the virtual reality treadmill will be used as a tool to evaluate concussion patients and potentially help determine when it's safe for athletes to return to play.

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