A combination of virtual reality and treadmill training may prove effective in preventing dangerous falls associated with aging, Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment or dementia, according to a new study published in The Lancet.
According to the study’s authors, the intervention combines the physical and cognitive aspects of walking, and could be implemented in gyms, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes to improve walking skills and prevent the falls of older adults and those with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
The research team, in collaboration with partners across Europe, collected data at five clinical sites in Belgium, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK between 2013 and 2015. The participants, all aged 60-90, were able to walk at least five minutes unassisted, were on stable medications and, critically, had reported at least two falls in the six months prior to the start of the study. Nearly half of all participants had Parkinson’s disease, and some had mild cognitive impairment.
Participants were assigned to treadmill training with virtual reality or treadmill training alone. The virtual reality component consisted of a camera that captured the movement of participants’ feet and projected it onto a screen in front of the treadmill, so that participants could “see” their feet walking on the screen in real time.
The game-like simulation was designed to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by including real life challenges such as avoiding and stepping over obstacles like puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways. It also provided motivation to the participants, giving them feedback on their performance and scores on the game.
While the incident rate of falls was similar in the two groups prior to the intervention, six months after training the rate of falls among those who trained with VR dropped by almost 50%. In contrast, there was no significant reduction in the fall rates among subjects who did not train with the VR.
Reprinted from materials provided by Tel Aviv University.