Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 11:40 UK

Treatment 'tricks' stroke victims

Wendy Powell with her stroke virtual reality machine
Ms Powell claims patients movements have been improved with the system

Stroke victims could be "tricked" into getting better with a new virtual reality physiotherapy treatment.

A specially-adapted treadmill which shows moving images to the user has been created by Wendy Powell at the University of Portsmouth.

The images trick the patient's brain into thinking they are walking slowly which encourages them to walk faster.

Ms Powell claims in some cases movement has been improved by 20% and users feel less pain compared to usual methods.

The former chiropractor added: "We're effectively fooling the brain and the body.

"The environment is stimulating and entertaining and there's less fear of falling over."

'Help enormously'

She said the system would especially help older stoke patients who can find traditional approaches to improving their speed and distance difficult because it relied on self-motivation.

She said: "After a stroke or fall, many older people lack motivation and confidence and they don't feel steady on their feet so getting out and about can be an issue and they can find the whole process rather dull."

The virtual reality system uses a variety of different images from urban landscapes to forest and mountain scenes.

Dr Jane Williams, a consultant nurse in stroke care at St Mary's Hospital in Portsmouth, said: "I can see it working very well on improving strength, endurance and stamina.

"Consistency and practice are key to making progress and this system has huge potential across a wide range of activities which can be tailored to meet individual rehabilitation needs."

Andy Long, 61, a stroke survivor, added: "The vast majority of stroke survivors cannot use a normal treadmill because they are not in control.

"Walking is the best possible exercise for their bodies and this system would help enormously."

Clinical trials are currently taking place at McGill University in Canada.

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