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Virtual Reality Treatment May Help People With Balance Disorders

Armen Hareyan's picture
Virtual Reality Grocery Store

Maneuvering through grocery store aisles without feeling anxious or dizzy can sometimes be impossible for the millions of Americans who have balance problems.

Early and ongoing research suggests that “walking” through a Virtual Reality Grocery Store can benefit people with balance disorders.

The world’s only Virtual Reality Grocery Store, based in the Department of Otolaryngology at Pitt and UPMC, is like a life-size video game that projects 3-D, moving images of a grocery store onto three screens which surround a real shopping cart on a custom-built treadmill. A person operating the shopping cart can control his or her own speed and direction of travel while walking up and down aisles that display realistic-looking products.

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The store has 18 aisles, each with an increasing level of difficulty. Easier aisles display larger products, like paper towels, while the more challenging aisles contain smaller products, like canned goods or tiny bottles of medicine.

Led by Sue Whitney, Ph.D., a physical therapist at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and a researcher at the Medical Virtual Reality Center, the study followed 11 patients with balance disorders who participated in the Virtual Reality Grocery Store trial at increasing difficulty levels for six weekly sessions. Patients went through a series of balance and mobility tests and self-reported surveys before and after participating. After six weeks, the majority of patients improved in every test taken.

This ongoing trial will compare Virtual Reality Grocery Store treatment to traditional physical therapy for balance disorders. To view a video of a patient walking through the Virtual Reality Grocery Store, visit the UPMC/Pitt Medical Virtual Reality Center web site: www.mvrc.pitt.edu/facility_balance.html

Presentation No. 181