Virtual reality-based rehab system could one day help people with Parkinson’s

A trip to the physical therapist could soon feel a bit more like a trip to the arcade, thanks to a new multidisciplinary study being conducted at USC.

James Finley and Beth Fisher of the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy and Marientina Gotsis of the USC School of Cinematic Arts have received a two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test a virtual reality-based program for walking rehabilitation in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms such as stiffness, shaking and balance problems can cause people with the degenerative brain disorder to have difficulty walking. Traditional physical therapies have centered around strength training, stretching and movement practice, but it was recently discovered that those strategies may not lead to long-term motor learning by themselves.

“From a motor-learning perspective, we now know that learning and long-term retention are optimized when the patients have a focus on the movement’s effect on the environment such as ‘step over the obstacle’ rather than on performing the movement itself  — ‘flex your hip,’ ” Fisher explained.

Read the full article on USC News

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