Inside BRILLIANT

Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can resemble or be different from the real world. Virtual reality is most often used in entertainment such as video games and theater applications.

Virtual environments (VEs) are increasingly used in the context of research and rehabilitation for tasks that are otherwise difficult to control or perform safely in physical environments, such as avoiding other pedestrians.

Virtual reality (VR) is a safe means to provide patient-oriented control over environmental factors for mobility. Dr. Anouk Lamontagne’s team is conducting research that combines VR to enhance community walking post-stroke. Their most recent study is titled ‘Gaze behavior while walking and avoiding pedestrians in a virtual community environment‘.

The ability to perform complex locomotor tasks required for independent community walking, such as avoiding obstacles and performing concurrent cognitive tasks, is often compromised after stroke. While the completion of complex locomotor tasks primarily relies on the sense of vision, patterns of gaze behavior involved in obstacle avoidance remain poorly understood. How gaze behavior is modulated by the addition of a concurrent cognitive tasks while walking also remains unknown. The objective of this project was to determine the healthy patterns of gaze behavior when avoiding pedestrians under single and dual-task walking conditions.

Healthy young adults were assessed while walking and immersed in a virtual shopping mall visualized in a head mounted display fitted with an eyetracker (HTC Vive Pro Eye) that records eye movements. Body movements were recorded using a motion capture system (Vicon). Participants performed three tasks: (1) walking and avoiding virtual pedestrians approaching from the center, right, or left (single-task walking); (2) auditory stroop task (single cognitive task); and (3) performing tasks 1 and 2 concurrently (dual-task condition). Main outcomes included the duration and frequency of gaze fixation on approaching pedestrians and final destination.

Preliminary findings indicate that compared to single-task walking, dual-task walking results in slower walking speeds, either reduced or increased pedestrian clearance, and earlier onsets of avoidance strategy. The duration of gaze episodes on approaching pedestrians and on the final destination is reduced in dual vs. single task conditions.

Results about healthy patterns of gaze behavior during pedestrian interactions will be used as a basis for comparison to understand the altered avoidance strategies shown by persons with post-stroke USN.

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