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Using Virtual Reality to Improve Balance in MS Patients

March 1, 2016

The Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation has published research that details the use of virtual reality to help patients with multiple sclerosis maintain their balance. Walking with proper balance is a common issue that plagues these patients.

The aim of this study was to look at the effects of training with a new virtual reality system on balance in people with MS and compare it with traditional physical therapy. The study was performed in the Sheba Multiple Sclerosis Center and the Center of Advanced Technologies in Rehabilitation at Tel-HaShomer, Israel.  

Participants were allocated to one of the two groups randomly. The first group was to complete a 6-week virtual reality training program using the computer assisted rehabilitation environment (CAREN) system. 

The sessions were twice a week for with 30 minutes of balance training. The participants of the first group were asked to stand and walk on a moving platform and stare at a screen with a road. The platform would move and adjust as the road went up and down hills and around turns.

The second group took part in a more conventional program. This consisted of balancing on an uneven surface or unstable base and catching balls thrown at them from different angles. At the end of the study both groups improved their balance, but the bigger improvement was group 1. They had the ability to reach farther while standing and reported less fear of falling.

These results were great and a huge step, however while the CAREN system has many clinical advantages, the high costs and space requirements for the system may prevent this device from being a rehabilitation tool in several medical centers and in cases of MS patients treated in the community and/or restricted to their homes.