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Researchers at the University of Portsmouth are creating a rehabilitation programme for stroke victims that puts them onto a treadmill which immerses them into a virtual environment.

Apparently the device works by using a series of moving images which essentially trick the brain of the patient into believing they are walking more slowly than is actually the case. This, I am assured, somehow encourages them to walk faster and to walk further.

Wendy Powell, the PhD student who has developed the software says that the early results suggest patients using virtual rehabilitation may experience less pain than traditional physiotherapy techniques following trials on real patients at the McGill University in Canada.

Wendy, formerly a professional chiropractor, is hopeful this project will the way for a new and innovative approach to physiotherapy. "The virtual system encourages patients to walk more quickly and for longer, almost without them realising it" she told us, adding "The environment is stimulating and entertaining and there's less fear of falling over. Our test subjects are usually surprised when I tell them they've improved by up to 20 per cent."

Wendy's system uses a variety of different images from urban landscapes to forest and mountain scenes. She has built a system of rewards into some of the programmes, which encourages the patient to pick up objects and collect points. She said that older people were not at all put off by the 'computer game' element but seemed to enjoy it.

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