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'Virtual Reality' May Help in Parkinson's Therapy

WEDNESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- People with Parkinson's disease are unable to make quick movements, but virtual reality- and physical reality-based therapies may provide the stimulus needed to help them move faster, new research suggests.

In conducting the study, scheduled for publication in the August issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, researchers assigned tasks to two groups of men and women -- one group of Parkinson's patients and another group of age-matched participants without the disease.

Each person was asked to reach for and grab a stationary ball as fast as possible. They were also told to catch balls that were visible for only about one second as they rolled down a ramp. These exercises were completed in normal physical reality and using virtual reality.

In both types of environments, the Parkinson's group had longer movement time and lower peak velocity (speed) when reaching for the stationary ball than those without the disease. However, the researchers found that movement time was much shorter and peak velocity was higher in the faster cueing conditions. The Parkinson's group also showed more improvement than the control group in movement time and peak velocity when given moving targets.

As a result, the people with Parkinson's were able to match the performance of those not suffering from the condition, the study found.

"This study contributes to the field of rehabilitation by providing evidence about how to manipulate task and environmental constraints to improve movement in persons with Parkinson's disease," the study's lead investigator, Hui-Ing Ma, of the department of occupational therapy and Institute of Allied Health Sciences at National Cheng Kung University, in Tainan, Taiwan, said in a journal news release.

"Our findings suggest that with an appropriate choice of cueing speed, virtual reality is a promising tool for offering visual motion stimuli to increase movement speed in persons with Parkinson's disease," Ma added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on Parkinson's disease.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, news release, July 11, 2011

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