Publication Details
De Keersmaecker, Emma, Anke Van Bladel, Silvia Zaccardi, Nina Lefeber, Carlos David Rodriguez Guerrero, Kerckhofs, Eric, Bart Jansen, Swinnen, Eva

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

Contribution To Journal


Background: Optic flow—the apparent visual motion experienced while moving—is absent during treadmill walking. With virtual reality (VR), optic flow can be controlled to mediate alterations in human walking. The aim of this study was to investigate (1) the effects of fully immersive VR and optic flow speed manipulation on gait biomechanics, simulator sickness, and enjoyment in people post-stroke and healthy people, and (2) the effects of the level of immersion on optic flow speed and sense of presence. Methods: Sixteen people post-stroke and 16 healthy controls performed two VR-enhanced treadmill walking sessions: the semi-immersive GRAIL session and fully immersive head-mounted display (HMD) session. Both consisted of five walking trials. After two habituation trials (without and with VR), participants walked three more trials under the following conditions: matched, slow, and fast optic flow. Primary outcome measures were spatiotemporal parameters and lower limb kinematics. Secondary outcomes (simulator sickness, enjoyment, and sense of presence) were assessed with the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire, Visual Analogue Scales, and Igroup Presence Questionnaire. Results: When walking with the immersive HMD, the stroke group walked with a significantly slower cadence (-3.69strides/min, p = 0.006), longer stride time (+ 0.10 s, p = 0.017) and stance time for the unaffected leg (+ 1.47%, p = 0.001) and reduced swing time for the unaffected leg (- 1.47%, p = 0.001). Both groups responded to the optic flow speed manipulation such that people accelerated with a slow optic flow and decelerated with a fast optic flow. Compared to the semi-immersive GRAIL session, manipulating the optic flow speed with the fully immersive HMD had a greater effect on gait biomechanics whilst also eliciting a higher sense of presence. Conclusion: Adding fully immersive VR while walking on a self-paced treadmill led to a more cautious gait pattern in people post-stroke. However, walking with the HMD was well tolerated and enjoyable. People post-stroke altered their gait parameters when optic flow speed was manipulated and showed greater alterations with the fully-immersive HMD. Further work is needed to determine the most effective type of optic flow speed manipulation as well as which other principles need to be implemented to positively influence the gait pattern of people post-stroke. Trial registration number: The study was pre-registered at (NCT04521829).

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