FOG at Exeter Uni VSimulators!

Situated just off the M5 at Junction 29, access to the Exeter University VSimulators research facility and parking was very easy. The on-site team of Overcoming Freezing Of Gait researchers headed up by Dr Will Young were supportive and understanding as we ran through the initial information process. As with all research it is important to establish a set of measurements common to all taking part. Any of you who have participated in Parkinson’s research previously will recognise the suite of tests. Even if you haven’t some of the tests will be familiar.

“If you build it they will come”. The VSimulators Vibrating Floor is a £5M investment in a world-leading scientific research facility. Parkinson’s is one of many research areas to benefit due to its ability to measure and compare within a large area (16 sq.m) the slightest difference in direction of movement and applied pressure.  Tethered for safety and equipped with Virtual Reality technology the research participant can be introduced to any and many reaction-inducing scenarios. The changes in movement can be measured, including apprehension which may be the initiator of Freezing of Gait.

What fun! Wearing the requested tight-ish clothing, dozens of reflective balls were attached to my limbs and joints so when scanned I would become “Digital Nige”. Other devices were added to monitor my vital statistics and we were off to the square.

How interesting – Starting with calibration I undertook a series of simple walking exercises around the floor. I was now wearing techy glasses to capture my eye movement. At all times any one of the 6 researchers were there to offer reassurance and explanations.

The Study proper involves a set of movements which I repeated three times. First of all in the real world and then in a digital version of the real world. Finally the exercise was repeated in a virtual house to see if obstacles of any and many kinds would affect the way I moved. With Digital Nige’s study data safely uploaded I then undertook some simple eye tests to measure the quality of my vision and deduce any influence that may have on the way I move.

I was pleased to be involved and felt valued throughout. As a person with Parkinson’s I learnt a little bit more about the condition and a lot more about me.

The study is open to over 55s who have Parkinson’s and who freeze and to those who have it and do not. Will Young and his team also need a comparison group of over 55s who do not have Parkinson’s. Couples and carers are therefore very welcome, and both can do the study at the same time.

© Nigel Coleman 2022