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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Tech Note: Virtual Help for Parkinson’s

Air Date: Week of May 31, 2002

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new virtual reality device to help Parkinson’s patients walk more easily.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead, your letters. First, this environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.



[THEME MUSIC]



GRABER: People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease tend to hesitate and stumble when they walk. Now, a new virtual reality device may help them move more easily through their environment. Previous research revealed that Parkinson’s patients walk better on tiled floors. That’s because the sharp edges and lines are easy to see. Tiles also encourage patients to stretch their legs further, and pick them up to reach the next block.



So Dr. Yoram Baram, at Israel’s Technion University, used this information to design a virtual tiled floor. He took a pair of eyeglasses and attached a tiny computer screen to the rim so that it hangs in front of one lens. A computer displays an image of a tiled floor to the screen. When a person takes a step, sensors in the glasses pick up the movement and the virtual tiles on the screen move as if the person were actually walking along a real tiled floor.



The virtual image is small enough that it doesn’t impede the patient’s overall vision. Dr. Baram conducted a study with 40 patients. He found that their speed and the length and stability of their stride improved by an average of 25 to 30%. That’s this week’s Technology Note. I’m Cynthia Graber.



[MUSIC UNDER]



CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.



[MUSIC: Earnest Woodall, "128 Details from a Picture," PICTURES IN MIND (Zephyrwood Music – 2002)]

 

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