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Virtual Reality based exercise programmes for improving Quality of Life for people with Parkinson's Disease

   School Of Social Sciences, Education And Social Work

  , Dr Tracey McConnell  Thursday, September 30, 2021  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project


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.

Project Outline 

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.

Further Information

Why study with us? 

Throughout this project you will be mentored and supervised by experienced academic staff and supported in training by highly skilled voluntary sector and industry specialists. As an enhanced and integrated doctoral experience you will spend at least three months with the collaborating partner organization Marie Curie and ProPeer Solutions as part of this studentship. Mentorship and training experience with be provided throughout the project. This project offers a chance to widening horizons and building networking opportunities both face-to-face and online with practitioners and researchers active in related projects locally, nationally and internationally, through representation at events and conferences as well as managing and updating various social media accounts.


Student eligibility criteria for DfE-funded studentships can be accessed here.

All applicants must meet the School’s entry criteria for PhD study:

Given the partnership model of working required for this project we are seeking an outstanding applicant who can not only demonstrate knowledge and skills but also i) experience of volunteering and ii) experience of engaging with people in positions of vulnerability. This will be assessed during shortlisting and then interview.

The studentship must begin in October 2021.


Contact Us

If you any queries about your application, please email Dr Aisling O’Boyle

How to Apply

Selection Process

To apply, please log onto Queen’s University Belfast Direct Application Portal, select the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, select ‘Social Work’ for the subject area, and then select the degree of ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Complete the required sections and submit your application by 30th September 2021. Cite reference PB21 in your application if you are applying for this studentship.

All applicants are also required to submit a 500-word statement (please upload this document to ‘proposal’ in place of a standard research proposal) describing how their current skills and experiences make them the ideal candidate for this project. Considering the project aims and requirements, we encourage candidates to draw particular attention to any experiences related to health and social care practice, virtual reality technology or film and media.

Shortlisted candidates will be asked to take part in a brief interview (via MS Teams). It is anticipated that interviews will take place in Sept 2021. We expect this position to be very competitive and therefore reserve the right to enhance shortlisting criteria if necessary.

The successful candidate needs to be in a position to take up this opportunity by October 2021.

If you any queries about your application, please email Dr Paul Best –

Funding Notes

Funding Body: DfE
This project is funded via a Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology (CAST) studentship. The voluntary sector partner organization is Marie Curie
For further details about eligibility criteria please read the DfE Research Eligibility Guidance Notes.
We will cover tuition fees up to £4,500. We are also pleased to offer an annual stipend of £15, 609 to support living costs while undertaking your doctoral research.
Successful candidates are expected to undertake full time working hours on the project. There may be scope to further supplement income through teaching activities should opportunities arise.

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