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The Mail on Sunday – January 7th 2024

Parkinsons patients could soon be given augmented reality (AR) goggles on the NHS to combat symptoms of the degenerative condition.

The incurable disease, which occurs when parts of the brain become damaged, affects mobility, leaving sufferers struggling to move and experiencing involuntary shaking.

One of the most common problems causes patients to suddenly stop moving and feel as though they are stuck to the ground – also known as freezing. This often arises upon reaching a doorway or standing up.

It is unclear why, but experts believe it may be due to the brain struggling to compute the change of environment.

This is typically treated with physiotherapy sessions that include techniques such as stepping over an imaginary object or marching in place before stepping forwards.

However, these tricks are not always effective and often require attending sessions at a clinic to practice – a challenging prospect for patients with limited mobility.

But physiotherapists in Yorkshire are now offering Parkinsons sufferers a headset which offers ‘unfeezing’ exercises that they can master at home.

The normal world can be seen through the goggles, but artificial images are projected on to the screen. In one setting, patients can see a bird floating in front of them. As they walk towards it, the bird moves away. And another shows coloured lines on the floor which light up as the user gets closer.

Experts claim the gadget – called a Strolll headset – is so effective that patients wearing it no longer experience freezing.

‘Patients are so focused on what they are seeing, such as lines on the floor, they don’t notice they have entered a new room and do not freeze,’ says Karen Hodgson, director of Hallamshire Physiotherapy Clinic.

‘Patients can then take the headset home with them and practise as much as they like without the guidance of a physiotherapist. The more they practise these methods, the less likely they are to freeze.’

Researchers at Leeds University are currently recruiting NHS patients for a trial of the technology.

If successful, this could lead to thousands of Parkinsons patients being offered the headsets.

‘Freezing is a really unpleasant experience, and patients often feel embarrassed when it happens in public,’ adds Ms Hodgson.

‘This isn’t a cure, but it’s a really great way to manage the worst of the symptoms.’

To read the Mail on Sunday article click here

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