A recent trial conducted the Cleveland Clinic has found that an augmented-reality (AR) headset can effectively enhance posture and gait in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The study’s findings were published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
AR technology allows users to engage with digital programs projected into their surroundings. The trial utilized the “Dual-task augmented Reality Treatment” (DART), which employs the Microsoft HoloLens2 to guide patients through dual-task training (DTT). DTT involves performing a series of tasks that simultaneously stimulate the brain and body.
The aim of DTT is to counter the effects of Parkinson’s disease on the areas of the brain responsible for physical and mental tasks. For example, walking while listening to an audiobook or conversing while shopping at a grocery store.
Jay Alberts, PhD, the study’s first author from the Center for Neurological Restoration, explains that DTT addresses the lack of balance and stability often associated with Parkinson’s disease and can help prevent falls or mobility difficulties. However, due to the time and resource constraints in measuring patient progress and personalizing programs, the therapy is not widely utilized.
To overcome these limitations, the DART program replaces a human therapist with a digital avatar named Donna. The patient wears the AR headset, through which they see Donna, and receives instructions that track their movements and responses. Donna guides the exercises and demonstrates movements, while the headset collects data for clinicians to analyze and utilize in subsequent sessions.
The trial demonstrated that using either an AR headset or having a physical therapist lead DTT sessions produced similar improvements in gait and postural stability. Dr. Alberts notes that a digital platform capable of performing these tasks, including detecting subtle alterations in stride, can help standardize and implement DTT more effectively.
DTT activities range from stepping forward when hearing an even number to remembering a series of numbers while walking or navigating a digital obstacle course. The DART platform offers over 230 combinations of DTT activities. The study compared the results of participants who received in-person therapy with those who utilized the DART platform and found comparable and clinically significant improvements in both groups. Additionally, retention of the therapy was high for both groups.
Dr. Alberts emphasizes that DART is not meant to replace physical therapists but rather to enable more widespread use of DTT. The goal is to make DTT more accessible to individuals with Parkinson’s disease, alleviating one more obstacle in their pursuit of improving their daily lives.
– Jay Alberts, PhD, Study First Author and Center for Neurological Restoration, Cleveland Clinic – Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair