A virtual reality headset and a pressure sensing mat could be tools used for diagnosis and rehabilitation for those suffering from problems with balance. Roselle Chen reports.
New York University researchers have developed a system combining virtual reality with a pressure sensing mat they say could help people with balance problems. Mary-Lynn Musco got into a near fatal car crash more than decade ago and receives physical therapy. For these therapy sessions, Musco steps on a pressure sensing mat, dons a virtual reality headset and ducks while spheres are virtually thrown at her, or looks up and down while maintaining balance in a virtual city landscape. The biggest thing Musco has noticed about her balance since beginning her sessions is a sense of confidence. SOUNDBITE (English) PHYSICAL THERAPY PATIENT, MARY-LYNN MUSCO, SAYING: "I'm at my desk at work, you know, as people are, and I would stand up and want to go down the hall to get something. Well, I'd stand up and want to make sure I wasn't off balance. Now I just stand up and walk. I don't even think about it. I know when I used a cane for almost a year and I said to my orthopedic surgeon, 'When can I get rid of this cane?' And he says, 'When you get up and forget where it is.' So it's sort of the same thing. You don't even think that, oh boy, my balance is better. I think, I'm just walking." Dr. Anat Lubetzky heads the research project and was initially using her system to assess and measure 27 patients with balance issues and collect that data. SOUNDBITE (English) ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN THE PHYSICAL THERAPY DEPARTMENT AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, DR. ANAT LUBETZKY, SAYING: "What we know about balance today is that there is no one size fits all type of intervention for balance problems. If you identify the underlying cause of the balance problem and you intervene at that level, hopefully you will have better outcomes." Ken Perlin is a computer science professor at NYU and co-founder of Tactonic Technologies, the team that invented the pressure-sensing mat and likened the mat to Harry Potter's Marauder's Map. SOUNDBITE (English) COMPUTER SCIENCE PROFESSOR AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, KEN PERLIN, SAYING: "It's a flat floor mat that acts like a video camera for pressure. When you stand on it you can see wiggling of your toes, leaning on your heel, footsteps." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicare healthcare costs related to falls in 2015 were over $31 billion (USD). SOUNDBITE (English) COMPUTER SCIENCE PROFESSOR AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, KEN PERLIN, SAYING: "With Anat's insight about how to combine visual feedback with touch feedback on your feet, we're able to provide a very powerful instrument. We can provide the diagnostic tool and the training and that's going to be pretty powerful in helping to save lives." The pressure mats are currently $800 but Perlin says that once they're able to make the mats in large volume by the end of the year, they can go down to $50 a square foot.