Xbox console used to show how MS harms walking gait

The camera can detect more subtle gait changes, Gholami says.
The camera can detect more subtle gait changes, Gholami says.

An inexpensive yet effective tool for assessing walking difficulties in patients with multiple sclerosis may already be sitting in many living rooms, being used for interactive video game activities such as tennis and dancing. 

McGill University researchers have been examining the ability of the Microsoft Kinect, a 3-D depth-sensing camera that hooks up to an Xbox gaming console or Windows computer, to detect the differences in gait among MS patients and healthy individuals. 

In a study published in July's IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, investigators used the Kinect device to capture the movement of 10 MS patients and 10 members of a control group. The team then used the data to develop a computer algorithm that can capture and store a subject's walking characteristics and specifications, identify whether the subject's walking pattern is abnormal and quantify the level of severity of the walking abnormality. 

The researchers also validated the algorithm with previously gathered clinical measures of gait and found that it can be used to assess any patient with gait abnormality. That includes individuals with Parkinson's disease and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.

Author Farnood Gholami, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at McGill, said this accessible and easy-to-use technology can help long-term care facilities adjust or improve their treatments and rehabilitation practices for residents with these disorders. Using a camera that detects movement and computer algorithms that quantifies a patient's walking patterns also can reduce the potential for human error.

“The gait assessment of patients will be more systematic, and subtle gait changes from a normal walking pattern can be identified, as opposed to current clinical practices which rely solely on clinician observation,” he said. “These subjective evaluations may distort results, as two clinicians may give the same patient different evaluations.”