MS Patients Can Walk Faster Using Virtual Reality

Among other symptoms, Multiple Sclerosis, affects the gait of the patient. This is the result of weak muscles, sensory disorders and general fatigue, and is also caused by incoordination induced by neuronal abnormality. A new device developed by a group of scientists headed by Professor Yoram Baran from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, helps MS patients and others suffering from similar problems to walk faster and easier. The device is composed of two main components- a sensory element that measures the movement of the body and a small screen attached to the patient’s eyeglasses. The patient sees a virtual floor moving beneath him as he walks, which helps him to remain stable and improve his walking abilities.
Using VR to improve walking 
Using VR to improve walking

When a healthy person walks he knows where he is located in his surroundings, knows if he went forwards or backwards, if he climbed up or down the stairs and that his body is balanced. A dizzy person, on the other hand, can’t figure out how much he walked and where he is right now in the three dimensional world. When our balance system isn’t functioning well we need external clues to tell us where we are and where we’re headed. The essential difference between people with gait problems and people without them is that when a healthy person walks he sees the world moving but knows why it is moving, whereas a sick person sees the world moving but he doesn’t connect it to the step he just made. The new device helps the sick person by creating visual external clues (like the solid ground he is walking on), which improve his understanding of the surroundings and of how it is affected by his movements. 

The device, called “audio visual walker”, merely “feels” the movements of the body and moves a checkerboard tile pattern according to these movements, so that in the patient’s eyes the pattern stays in place. The device has an auditory effect of making a click for each step the user takes as well. The device is activated using simple batteries and is easy to use. It is now also available for consumers. 

In clinical tests, the device showed a big improvement in the gait of patients suffering from MS, Parkinson Disease and other diseases that affect one’s gait. When tested on more than 40 patients, the device showed some improvement in all of the patients and a big improvement in some of them. The effect of the device was sometimes similar to the effect of medicine or surgery, excluding the side-effects. These results are outstanding taking into consideration that before testing bagen, the whole concept of the device was based on an un-established hypothesis. 

This invention combines biosensors and virtual reality with the help of artificial intelligence to aid people with sensory dysfunction feel their environment and help them live a better life. This is one example of how a computer can complete our sensory system. 

Walking on tiles 
Walking on tiles
More information on the Audio Visual Walker can be found in the Technion’s press release and on Professor Baram’s homepage. Video clips showing patients using the technology can be found here and here.