Wendy Powell, a PhD student in the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth has created a walking simulator that works in conjunction with a treadmill to fool the walker into believing he or she is walking slower. The idea is to motivate the physical therapy patients to speed up.
Clinical trials on real patients are taking place in collaboration with experts at the renowned McGill University in Canada where early results are encouraging.
A former chiropractor, Wendy, hopes it will pave the way for a new and innovative approach to physiotherapy.
She said: “The virtual system encourages patients to walk more quickly and for longer, almost without them realising it. We’re effectively fooling the brain and the body.
The environment is stimulating and entertaining and there’s less fear of falling over. Our test subjects are usually surprised when I tell them they’ve improved by up to 20 per cent.”
Wendy hopes that the system will also help older stoke patients who often find traditional approaches to improving their speed and distance difficult because it relies very much on self-motivation.
She said: “After a stroke or fall many older people lack motivation and confidence and they don’t feel steady on their feet so getting out and about can be an issue and they can find the whole process rather dull.”
Wendy’s system uses a variety of different images from urban landscapes to forest and mountain scenes. She has built a system of rewards into some of the programmes, which encourages the patient to pick up objects and collect points. She said that older people were not at all put off by the ‘computer game’ element but seemed to enjoy it.
Press release: Virtual reality set to transform physiotherapy