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Keywords:

  • virtual reality;
  • motor imagery;
  • mobility;
  • gait;
  • balance;
  • Parkinson's disease

Abstract

Motor imagery (MI) and virtual reality (VR) are two evolving therapeutic approaches that make use of cognitive function to study and enhance movement, in particular, balance and mobility of people with Parkinson's disease (PD). This review examines the literature on the use of VR and MI in the assessment of mobility and as a therapeutic intervention to improve balance and gait in patients with PD. A study was eligible for inclusion if MI or VR were used to assess motor or cognitive function to improve gait, balance, or mobility in patients with PD. Data were extracted on the following categories: participants; study design; intervention (type, duration, and frequency); and outcomes. Intervention studies were evaluated for quality using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale. Sixteen studies were identified; 4 articles used MI and 12 used VR for assessment and treatment of gait impairments in PD. The studies included small samples and were diverse in terms of methodology. Quality of the intervention trials varied from fair for VR to good for MI. The benefits of using MI and VR for assessment and treatment were noted. Encouraging findings on the potential benefits of using MI and VR in PD were found, although further good-quality research is still needed. Questions remain on the optimal use, content of interventions, and generalizability of findings across the different stages of the disease. The possible mechanisms underlying MI and VR and recommendations for future research and therapy are also presented. © 2013 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society