Studying freezing of gait (FOG) in the lab has proven problematic. This has primarily been due to the difficulty in designing experimental setups that maintain high levels of ecological validity whilst also permitting sufficient levels of experimental control. To help overcome these challenges, we have developed a virtual reality (VR) environment with virtual doorways, a situation known to illicit FOG in real life. To examine the validity of this VR environment, an experiment was conducted, and the results were compared to a previous “real-world” experiment. A group of healthy controls (N = 10) and a group of idiopathic Parkinson disease (PD) patients without any FOG episodes (N = 6) and with a history of freezing (PD-f, N = 4) walked under three different virtual conditions (no door, narrow doorway (100% of shoulder width) and standard doorway (125% of shoulder width)). The results were similar to those obtained in the real-world setting. Virtual doorways reduced step length and velocity while increasing general gait variability. The PD-f group always walked slower, with a smaller step length, and showed the largest increases in gait variability. The narrow doorway induced FOG in 66% of the trials, while the standard doorway caused FOG in 29% of the trials. Our results closely mirrored those obtained with real doors. In short, this methodology provides a safe, personalized yet adequately controlled means to examine FOG in Parkinson’s patients, along with possible interventions.
Gomez-Jordana, L., Stafford, J., Peper, C. L. E., & Craig, C. (2018). Crossing Virtual Doors: A New Method to Study Gait Impairments and Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson's Disease, 2018, 1-8. [ 2957427]. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/2957427