Virtual environment tool helps patients with balance issues

September 30, 2010 By Renee Cree, Temple University

Since 2006, Temple's Virtual Environment and Postural Orientation (VEPO) Laboratory has been helping patients with balance and spatial orientation issues find other ways to walk and stand upright using virtual reality.

About 6.2 million Americans suffer from chronic dizziness or imbalance, two major disorders related to the vestibular system, which controls balance and orients the body in space. Over the summer, students from across Temple had the opportunity to help some of these patients, by designing technological applications for use in the VEPO Lab.

Jeremy Norman, a kinesiology senior, was interested in extending the clinical application of GVS, or galvanic vestibular stimulation, which applies to the vestibular system. Norman used a device worn by patients in the lab that sends a very low-voltage electric current from the back of the ear through the head and causes the patient to sway involuntarily.

“It hasn't been used for treatment of balance before, but there could be applications that will help physical therapy patients by testing differences in the vestibular system versus visual cues and their effect on balance,” he said.

Jason Buranich, an electrical engineering senior, designed a pair of vibrating flip flops that can be worn in the “cave” - a virtual environment in which patients wear 3-D glasses and interact while standing on a shifting platform surrounded by three large screens. A harness supports patients in case of a fall.

“The idea behind this is to test how the differences between the and feedback from the feet and legs affect balance, and what those differences are between older and younger people,” he said.

Greg Teodoro, who will begin the master’s program in Computer Information Sciences this spring, worked on the Avatar project. Existing software uses a computer-generated face, or avatar, to help aphasia patients practice language skills. Teodoro and other students modified the face, enabling it to reflect any age, race, or ethnicity. They are also working on a program that will enable the avatar to talk directly to patients, and hope that one day patients will be able to use it on their home computers.

The current standard of treatment for aphasia patients is role playing with a speech therapist, but “changing the race, age and ethnicity of the avatars will hopefully make the patient more comfortable and will give them a more realistic example of how to emulate the sounds and the way the mouth moves,” said Anicha Malloy, a recent speech-language-hearing graduate who worked on the Avatar project.

One of the most complex VEPO projects involved creating a 3-D replica of Temple’s campus for the cave. Standing on the moving platform, outfitted with 3-D glasses, the patient takes a virtual tour of Broad Street. He passes by the Pearson and McGonigle complex, turns down Pollett Walk, and ends inside the Baptist Temple. Recent architecture graduate Ray McClane, and Adam Gerbert, a Computer Information Sciences senior, worked on the project.

“Rather than practicing in a designed to look like a room or a hallway, in this scene the patient encounters buildings on either side of them and cars coming down the street,” said VEPO Lab director Emily Keshner, chair of the Physical Therapy department in the College of Health Professions and Social Work. “It gives them a more complex, real-world practice scenario.”

Funding for the student projects came from the government stimulus grant, to further the efforts of Keshner’s initial parent grant from the National Institutes of Health, which is to study the use of virtual reality to examine balance issues in the elderly and stroke victims.

“Working with virtual reality requires computer programming skills, so we initially reached out to Justin Shi in (Temple’s) Department of Computer and Information Science to recruit students,” said Keshner. “The extra funding allowed us to reach out to other departments and recruit students from kinesiology, engineering, architecture and communication and speech sciences.”

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.