Researchers at the University of Sydney have developed a novel way of investigating the phenomenon of “freezing” in Parkinson’s (a sudden, inexplicable cessation of movement that often occurs while walking). Basically, they have combined an MRI scanner with a pedal-operated walking simulator that can be used while lying down. This allows them to see what the brain is up to while a patient is “walking” through a virtual world that features corridors and doorways (narrow doorways often trigger freezing episodes).
The results of the study indicate that, while walking itself requires very little brain activity, as soon as freezing occurs, the brain goes into overdrive:
”… As soon as you freeze, it absolutely flips. The front area switches off and then all these other bits – the prefrontal cortex that is trying to reason and these bits at the back that deal with sensory input – all switch on.”
The researchers also hope that the virtual world can also be used to train the brain.
“It is possible that exercising in VR may offer a potential way of improving symptoms without the need for medications or surgery.”
Dr Simon Lewis, quoted in a University press release