Norwegian version

Virtual Reality Game Helps Train Parkinson's Patients

Picture from user testing setup

In the course “IT project in practice”, the computer science students at OsloMet Martin Bang, Daria Krivonos and Hanna Schimek developed a Virtual Reality (VR) game for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

PD is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 10 million people worldwide. There is no cure and modern medicine can only alleviate the symptoms. 

VR game helps retaining muscle mass 

Physical therapy helps on the other hand to retain muscle mass and provide a stable support system for declining motor functions. 

Moreover, VR exercise games can provide a fun, immersive and engaging exercise experience to train fine motor skills and hand-eye-coordination. 

It can also provide feedback to physiotherapists and other medical staff, to track progress. 

When the students developed the game, they wanted to take care of stationary rehabilitation possibilities, such as grip strength, hand-eye-coordination, and other upper body motor functions.

First, they studied literature on PD and its effect on the human body. 

Balloon shooter game

Based on the research they read about, the students developed a simple balloon shooter game, where the PD patients could use HTC Vive VR headset with one wireless handheld controller.

To decrease the danger of falling, the patients should sit on a chair and interact only with the screen right in front of them, but with the ability to look all around in the VR setup. 

The exercise is focusing on the movements of the hand holding the controller to aim at the balloons and “pull the trigger” at the right time. 

‘We have chosen this solution because the competitive trait of shooting targets encourages the user to move quickly,’ the students write in their report.

The students tested five early stage Parkinson's patients at the facility of Unicare Fram.

Picture of screen shot from the game

Screenshot from the balloon game.

Likeable and user friendly

The patients played two rounds of the prototype game, answered questions during and after the test, and completed a system usability scale (SUS) of the game. 

The results showed that all the five participants liked the prototype of the game, and that it seemed to be user friendly.

The game was both fun and immersive; simple to use, and the patients enjoyed its competitive nature. 

On the other hand, it may be possible to improve the mechanics of play, such as type of object, size and speed of the objects, and distance from the player. Suggested additions includes sound and more immersive settings. 

The average age range of the participants tested was 65-74, with an average of 5.6 years with PD. 

Suitable game concept

The PD patients liked very well the underlying game concept, shooting objects in a semi-3D environment, and they reacted positively to the trigger mechanic. 

Other suggestions from the patients focused on music and settings, and overall aesthetic presentation of the game. 

They also thought different backgrounds, settings, music, and colours could make the game more immersive and energetic.  

Instructive for the students

‘Is the experiences you have from the project useful for you as students?’ 

‘I had a lot of fun doing it,’ says Hanna.

‘I have learned the whole process of how to conduct in a scientific project,’ says Martin.

‘I have applied my home university, University of Applied Sciences St. Pölten in Austria, to write a bachelor thesis about VR and physical therapy. I hope to do something based on this project again,’ says Hanna. 

At OsloMet, she is attending the study programme accessibility and digital communication (for exchange students, taught in English).

Martin is a student majoring in information technology (in Norwegian: informasjonsteknologi) at OsloMet. He is born in Oslo and currently working towards finishing his bachelor degree.

The third student, Daria, is on the last stages of completing her bachelor degree in applied computer technology (in Norwegian: anvendt datateknologi) at OsloMet. She is originally from Russia but has lived in Norway for a few years.

‘What do you think about the course “IT project in practice” you have attended here at OsloMet?’

‘I am satisfied. It is super fun when you can work with new technology, and work together with different companies and people. It is a practical task, and it can be useful,’ says Martin.

Picture of Martin Bang and Hanna Schimek

‘Fun and educational,’ says Martin Bang and Hanna Schimek. Photo: Olav-Johan Øye

Different students learned from each other

The students had different tasks in the project:

Martin Bang was the facilitator due to his Norwegian language skills being native. 

Hanna Schimek was the technical coordinator and took care of the HTC Vive and the hardware running the game. 

Daria Krivonos was the testing coordinator, took notes and followed up the testing protocol.

‘Our group consisted of three students with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, which gave us the opportunity to combine these aspects into a universal project and learn from each other,’ the students write in their report.

The top image is from trial of the game.