PhD Supervisor: Dr Paul Best
Secondary PhD Supervisor: Prof Joanne Reid, Professor of Cancer and Palliative Care, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen’s University Belfast
Assistant PhD Supervisor: Dr Tracey McConnell, Marie Curie Senior Research Fellow, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen’s University Belfast
Queen’s has an excellent track-record of collaborating with private industry, public sector organisations, and the third sector to successfully deliver impactful, user-informed research. To support the development of these collaborations, the University will again commit to a number of studentships (funded via Department for the Economy and EPSRC) commencing in October 2021 for projects across the Institution that will significantly involve working with a non-academic partner.
As a non-curable condition, patients with Parkinson’s rely heavily on healthcare services to support them to live as full a life as possible. Access to regular and specialist physiotherapy is particularly important for those with Parkinson’s as it can help someone to live independently for longer as well as managing functional decline. However, access to these services can be difficult with some providers reporting a two-year waiting list. Covid-19 restrictions have further exacerbated this issue and the expected influx of post-lockdown referrals will do little to change this worrying trend. A new and transformative approach to service delivery is required, one that enables those with Parkinson’s to access specialist physiotherapy services while reducing the burden on already struggling services.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology is being used more and more in healthcare as an approach to treatment (phobias, dental anxiety, trauma etc.) or as a tool for training (surgical skills, undertaking CPR). The underlying principle is that Virtual Environments provide a sense of immersion and presence that make the user feel they are transported to a new environment. Therefore, responses to stimuli in the virtual world are similar to responses in real life. These advancements have opened up massive opportunities in relation to service development whereby situations and scenarios that are too costly or unique to replicate in the ‘real world’ are easily accessible in the virtual world. VR programmes that harness the knowledge of healthcare experts can enable the user to receive specialist advice and support every day and from the comfort of their own home.
This project is a collaboration between QUB, Marie Curie and a technology company called ProPeer Solutions. The current project will see chartered physiotherapy staff from Marie Curie and ProPeer develop a series of VR-based exercises that replicate those received within face-to-face services. This involves a person with Parkinson’s putting on a VR headset and being guided through a series of tasks designed to strengthen muscles, mobilise joints and improve balance.
Some preliminary work has already been completed and delivered to a small group of patients and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The current project seeks to extend this work by providing more patients with Parkinson’s an opportunity to try out these specialist VR exercises from home as part of a 6-week programme. The objectives will be to assess whether the VR exercises help manage functional decline, prevent falls as well as the impact on their mental well-being (stress and anxiety). We would also like to investigate what users thought about the VR experience and how they would like to see it improved. We wish to establish how many patients will sign up to receive the service (recruitment) and whether they complete the 6-week programme (retention). If successful, we wish to scale up the programme and offer it to more patients including those receiving services from other organisations. The overall goal is to provide a low cost, VR-based solution that will have a transformative impact on those with Parkinson’s.