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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Temple: Virtual Reality Balance Research Moves from Diagnosis to Intervention

With a new fellowship, Temple University College of Public Health associate professor Dr. Geoffrey Wright will spend a year building a new generation of software tools, employing virtual reality (VR) technology not only to assess balance problems but also to become part of the rehabilitation process with clinical treatments for balance impairments.

“We can use the same kinds of virtual environments that we use for assessments in rehabilitation,” Dr. Wright says.

Balance can be a problem for people who have suffered brain injury and can turn into a significant health issue for many older adults, so understanding how to evaluate it and create appropriate therapies is important. In the United States, a person 65 or older falls every second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“If you take someone in their 80s, and they fall, it can be a downward health spiral,” Dr. Wright says. “It’s the impact of maybe breaking your hip and not ever recovering from it.”

This suite of tests that Dr. Wright is prototyping is designed to assess how much a person’s balance is influenced by visual input. Balance involves a coordination of three systems, he explains: vision, vestibular (“gyroscopes” in the inner ear) and somatosensory (such as feeling the floor with one’s feet). Disruptions to any of these, from injury or the natural process of aging, can compromise a person’s balance.

The new fellowship will let Dr. Wright work toward expanding the technology from diagnosis to intervention. New exercises will involve weight-shift training, dynamic balance exercises to a metronome, and keeping balance while moving one’s head.

Read more at the College of Public Health.

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