5 Ways Virtual Reality Therapy Supports People with Parkinson’s Disease

Author: Melanie Saltys

Parkinson’s disease (PD) results from degenerative changes in the nervous system, leading to dysfunction of the cerebral basal ganglia.1 People with PD often experience symptoms that affect their quality of life, including tremor, slowness of movement, limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems.2 Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery.2 It is common for people with PD to take a variety of these medications — all at different doses and at different times of day — to manage symptoms.2  

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has been tested as a therapeutic tool in neurorehabilitation research.3 VR therapy is a promising drug-free treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and has the potential to improve their quality of life. VR provides visual, auditory, and somatosensory stimuli to assist in improving gait. Immersive VR has proven effective in cognitive therapies, pain management, and motivation of the elderly.4

Here are five ways VR therapy specifically helps people with PD:

Increases mobility, strength, and ROM

A PD diagnosis often presents muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, and reduced range of motion. People with PD are generally less active than they were prior to their diagnosis, which can result in decreased strength and mobility. VR therapy incorporates physical medicine and rehabilitation intended to improve motion and movement kinematics, muscular function, range of motion, and the kinematics of body movement.

 Improves gait and balance

One study found that VR rehabilitation training can not only achieve the same effect as conventional rehabilitation training. Moreover, it has better performance on gait and balance in patients with PD. Taken together, when the effect of traditional rehabilitation training on gait and balance of PD patients is not good enough, we believe that VR rehabilitation training can at least be used as an alternative therapy.3

Addresses cognitive changes

Approximately half of people with PD will experience some form of cognitive impairment. The same brain changes that lead to motor symptoms can also result in slowness in memory and thinking.6 The changes can affect attention, speed of processing, executive function, memory, speech, and visual perceptions. VR applications assess and mitigate conditions related to cognitive function by providing cognitive exercises and cognitive ability measurement.

 Reduces depression, anxiety, and stress

People living with a chronic health condition are more likely to have or develop a mental health condition.5 Receiving a PD diagnosis and learning how to adjust to life with PD can be challenging on the body and mind. VR therapy provides a drug-free approach to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety and manage stress. XRHealth offers a wellness app based on proven cognitive therapy methods as well as a meditation app to calm and relax the mind.

Gives back independence

Often with Parkinson’s disease comes a loss of independence. People with PD may no longer be able to perform some of the daily tasks that they used to do so easily; and they usually need to rely on friends, family, or a caretaker to assist them. With VR therapy, individuals can do therapy from the comfort and privacy of their home. While they may be on their own at home, they are always connected remotely to a therapist for one-on-one, personalized appointments.

There are many advantages of using VR therapy and rehabilitation for people with Parkinson’s, as it provides an engaging, immersive, and enjoyable dimension to the therapeutic process and provides data to healthcare providers in real-time so that they can measure progress, analyze results, and make informed clinical decisions.   

Today, VR therapy is more than just a headset with applications. XRHealth Virtual Clinic offers completely remote, at-home VR-based programs for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy. Patients choose a licensed therapist, get sent a VR headset, and follow a customized treatment plan. The telehealth aspect allows patients to receive therapy in the comfort of their home while they are remotely guided and monitored by a caring therapist.

Many people with PD that were treated by XRHealth were able to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Joe was able to start playing his guitar after he completed his VR therapy. 

Watch Joe’s story below.

To choose your own therapist and get started with XRHealth VR therapy, click here.  

References

  1. Dibble LE, Nicholson DE, Shultz B et al: Sensory cueing effects on maximal speed gait initiation in persons with Parkinson’s disease and healthy elders. Gait Posture, 2004; 19: 215–25
  2. What is Parkinson’s? https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons
  3. Lei, C., Sunzi, K., Dai, F., Liu, X., Wang, Y., Zhang, B., He, L., & Ju, M. (2019). Effects of virtual reality rehabilitation training on gait and balance in patients with Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review. PloS one, 14(11), e0224819. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224819
  4. Cikajlo, I., Peterlin Potisk, K. Advantages of using 3D virtual reality-based training in persons with Parkinson’s disease: a parallel study. J NeuroEngineering Rehabil 16, 119 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-019-0601-1
  5. Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/
  6. Cognitive Changes. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Cognitive-Changes

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Education: Doctor of Physical Therapy from University of Michigan-Flint

Years in Practice: 10

Education: Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Masters in Social Work from Grand Valley State University

Years in Practice: 14

Education: Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Eastern Michigan University 

Years in Practice: 19