Virtual reality (VR) technology has emerged as a promising tool for studying and rehabilitating gait and balance impairments in people with Parkinson disease (PD) as it allows users to be engaged in an enriched and highly individualized complex environment. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that is traditionally managed by a combination of medication and physical therapy treatment. Within VR, augmented feedback about a person with Parkinson’s performance enables repetitive practice of motor tasks, thus stimulating both motor and cognitive processes simultaneously. VR offers patients with neurological deficits , such as Parkinson’s, an opportunity to develop new motor strategies, or to relearn motor abilities that were lost due to their injury or disease processes.
VR can simulate situations that would be too dangerous or cumbersome to perform in a clinical setting . For example, having fall-prone people with PD perform gait and balance tasks on raised platforms to elicit anxiety is too dangerous, but immersive VR technology provides the opportunity to induce similar fear responses while participants remain safely on the ground. Additionally, other VR technologies focus on improving more broad symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as being able to increase stride length and improve balance, in safe, controlled environments.
The rationale behind using VR systems lies in providing augmented visual and auditory feedback to gradually challenge postural control and balance during a task. This strategy bypasses the deficient motor generation system present in people with Parkinson’s, thus improving their motor response. VR offers opportunities to safely identify an individual’s specific triggers and balance deficits, thus creating personalized training targets