In presenting this thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master's degree at the University of Washington, I agree that the Library shall make its copies freely available only for inspection. I further agree that extensive copying of this thesis is allowable only for scholarly purposes, consistent with "fair use" as prescribed in the U.S. Copyright Law. Any other reproduction for any purposes or by any means shall not be allowed without my written permission.
Professor Thomas A. Furness Industrial Engineering
Parkinson's disease is characterized by three primary symptoms: rigidity, tremor, and akinesia. Akinesia refers to difficulty initiating and continuing motions, in particular ambulation. Most akinetic patients are aided by the presence of visual cues (such as bricks or cards) on the ground, which evoke a ``stepping over'' response; apparently, these cues can be used to fire neural ambulation programs which are otherwise unreachable except via medication.
The intent of this thesis was to investigate the effectiveness of providing visual cues which did not consist of physical objects placed on the ground, and which could easily be carried around by the patient. Ideally, such cues would allow akinetic patients a wider range of mobility with reduced medication and without the impracticality of tangible cues.
We tested both a simple laser pointing device and the Virtual Vision Sport, a visor with a small lens mounted in front of one eye reflecting a liquid crystal display (LCD).
The study indicated a marked improvement in unmedicated gait for subjects using each of the laser pointer and images presented in the Virtual Vision visor as the stimulus. One of the subjects unexpectedly learned to improve his gait without the presence of visual cues, although this gait breaks down frequently in the presence of distractions.