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Headset aids Parkinson's patients

People suffering from Parkinson's disease seem to walk better when wearing a head-mounted display, according to a European research body.

People suffering from Parkinson's disease seem to walk better when wearing a head-mounted display, according to a European research body.

The headset superimposes computer-generated geometric shapes over what patients see, giving them visual cues that help navigation, according to Xybernaut, a Fairfax, Va.-based maker of wearable computers.

Xybernaut worked with the Parreha Consortium, a European group that conducts research into helping Parkinson's sufferers through physical therapy and technology.

The group purchased five Xybernaut wearable PCs after first testing notebooks, which proved to be too cumbersome for mobile use by Parkinson's patients, Xybernaut said.

"The fact that Xybernaut technologies are actually designed to be worn by the user made them a much more flexible computing solution," stated Dr. Reynold Greenlaw of Oxford Computer Consultants, a member of the consortium.

According to the Parreha Web site, some Parkinson's disease patients have trouble walking because of a syndrome called kinesia paradoxa: When moving down an unobstructed pathway such as a corridor, patients can become confused.

But paradoxically, when the path is delineated or broken up by markers such as strips of paper, navigation becomes easier for the patient.

The head-mounted display places a monitor over one eye. When combined with what the patient sees from the other eye, the effect is of the real world overlaid with a virtual tunnel that scrolls slowly past as the patient walks, according to the Parreha site. The overlay program was created by Oxford Computer Consultants.

Patients have been tested for a year with these headsets in countries such as Germany, and the results have been "compelling," Xybernaut said. Parreha also is presenting results to the medical community.

"The ability to blend actual sensory information with meaningful computer data is critical to helping Parkinson's patients," said Dr Edwin Vogt, chief research and development officer for Xybernaut. "This benefit is enhanced further if the integrated information can be presented to the user while he or she is out and about during their daily routine."

CNETAsia's John Lui reported from Singapore.