USC Develops Virtual Reality Application for Parkinson’s Physiotherapy


Virtual Reality (VR) technology offers interesting possibilities for Parkinson’s disease therapy. University of Southern California engineers are teaming with researchers and VR game designers to help Parkinson’s patients walk steadily with confidence, creating a VR application called Overcome.

Traditional physiotherapy is centered around strength training, stretching, and movement practice, usually in a clinic setting. However, studies have shown that activity performed in the context of the environment, like say, stepping over an obstacle, aids long-term retention in motor skills far more than simply being told to lift one’s foot.

This game, in an immersive virtual reality setting, offers the player an opportunity to attend a rehabilitation session without actually giving him/her the notion of being in one.

In Overcome, patients roam a virtual modern city, complete with roads, pavements, buildings, and cars, and with an option of day/night mode, as they walk on a treadmill. Points are earned by avoiding obstacles such as chairs, paper, plastic cups, etc. that are randomly generated on the sidewalk. Haptic feedback and vibration help simulate the virtual obstacles.

“Overcome” is part of a larger project funded by the National Institutes of Health, and led by James Finley, an assistant professor of biokinesiology and biomedical engineering and director of the Locomotor Control Lab at the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. Finley’s project is to use virtual reality as a technique to enhance physical training and improve engagement in the context of rehabilitation.

According to a USC press release, several hospitals already use VR rooms for Parkinson’s patients to undergo physiotherapy. However, “Overcome” hopes to take it to the next level with its haptic feedback. The team hopes to deploy it on actual patients in the near future.

Press Release:

Overcome Website:

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