New research shows that Parkinson’s patients’ tremors can be relieved in Virtual Reality
NEW YORK, 2020–2021. Recent research published in Preprints describes a preclinical study carried out by Dr. eMalick G. Njie and his team at NeuroStorm, Inc together with stoPD, a nonprofit organization focused on the improved health of patients with Parkinson’s disease. NeuroStorm built algorithms that can detect hand tremors, and then cancel them out in Virtual Reality (VR), allowing Parkinson’s patients to re-engage in activities that they cannot perform in real life. In VR, Parkinson’s patients can now paint with steady hands, reclaim their handwriting, and perform other activities that require fine motor skills and are prohibitively difficult in their everyday lives. This technology comes in a time of increased social isolation particularly for the elderly because of the global COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic; and could prove useful towards re-engaging this vulnerable population to socialize and be active in VR, safely.
The idea of using Virtual Reality to aid the tremor-afflicted isn’t new. As recently as 2016, a study was conducted that proved that patients with Parkinson’s disease had improved gait and suffered fewer falls after being trained in VR obstacle courses. NeuroStorm’s science team expanded on this work by providing an innovative solution to hand tremors, the primary symptom of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorder diseases.
The study took place in three parts. The team first determined whether the Oculus Rift, an inexpensive consumer-level VR device, could measure Parkinsonian tremors with sufficient precision for scientific data collection and investigation. Encouraging results here led the team to successfully develop and test algorithms to eliminate tremors in VR. These algorithms enable Parkinson’s patients (and members of other movement disorder populations) to function normally in VR. These algorithms are now the core of a new paradigm of applications NeuroStorm calls ‘Lifestyle Apps’. Lifestyle Apps empower patients to complete activities they’ve had a difficult time with in real life. For instance, patients using a Handwriting Lifestyle App can sign tax return documents in VR and have them printed on real paper, or directly e-sign via the internet.
In the final part of the study, NeuroStorm sought to determine whether patients’ seeing their hands stable in VR could have a therapeutic impact and reduce their tremors in real life. This is an important question, as current therapies for Parkinson’s tremors are expensive, temporary, and can have severe unwanted side-effects. The company observed positive trends, though more research must be done to validate these observations. The company also took care to survey the Parkinson’s patients who participated in these studies, and found that they were able to handle VR headsets and controllers comfortably and quite confidently.
NeuroStorm is a neurotechnology company comprised of neuroscientists, physicians, developers, and immersive media artists. Our vision is a world in which disabilities are not a restrictive factor, but instead an asset under the right conditions. Working together with healthcare providers, non-profit organizations, and the arts, NeuroStorm builds unique, effective solutions to challenging problems. The company has won multiple awards, including Best Product at the Games For Change Festival and the overall Jury Selection Award at the New York Media Lab 2019 Annual Summit.
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