Augmented reality involves the use of virtual objects or cues layered on a screen view of the actual surrounding environment, typically using a head-mounted display with camera features. And a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) described an innovative use of augmented reality to help manage Parkinson’s disease.
The app featured in this JAMA article is called Moving Through Glass, an augmented reality experience designed to help patients with Parkinson’s disease improve their movement. Designed through a grant from Google to the Dance for Parkinson Disease company, a combination of a support group and a professional dance group, the app aims to reinforce the movement strategies taught in the actual class. Brief video clips appear before the user along with an instructor that appears in the upper right hand corner of the user’s view depending on which module the user chooses to take part in. The virtual instructor assists the user through musically choreographed movements, and also models various walking and unfreezing positions such as marching in place, which are two actions that are progressively difficult for a person with Parkinson disease. These are layered over a viewfinder that shows the “real” world, this time using a Google Glasses setup.
Much of the app design is based on research that has shown that dance may have broad benefits for those with Parkinson disease, such as enhancement of endurance, flexibility, and balance. Participation in the brief choreographed movements is targeted not only to help users feel less stiff and rigid, but also to feel more motivated to remain active. While Google Glasses certainly isn’t widely available (development for a consumer version was halted in 2015), hopefully other augmented reality platforms will pick up this app project. Furthermore, research demonstrating clinically significant improvements for users of such an app would really make a powerful case for improving access to such therapy for patients, and perhaps expand the scope to other neurologic disorders.