A commonly used gaming device may prove to be a cheap and effective means of evaluating the walking difficulties of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, a new study has found.

The Microsoft Kinect is a three-dimensional depth-sensing camera used in interactive video activities such as tennis and dancing. It can be hooked up to an Xbox gaming console or a Windows computer.

Researchers from McGill University in Canada tested whether the Kinect could detect the differences in gait of MS patients compared to healthy individuals.

In current clinical practice, the walking movement of MS patients is usually assessed by their doctors, and subjective evaluations may distort results: two different clinicians may give the same patient different evaluations.

Using a camera that detects movement and computer algorithms that quantify the patients’ walking patterns can reduce potential for human error, researchers said.

They captured the movement of 10 MS patients and 10 members of an age-and-sex-matched control group using the Kinect device. The MS patients had previously been assessed for gait abnormalities using the traditional clinician method.

Using the data, researchers then developed computer algorithms that quantified gait characteristics of MS patients and healthy people.

They found that gait characteristics measured with the Kinect camera and analysed with the developed algorithms were reproducible when assessed at one visit and were different between MS patients and the healthy individuals.

Moreover, the gait characteristics of MS patients obtained by the algorithm were correlated with clinical measures of gait, researchers said.

The algorithms could mathematically define the characteristics of gait in MS patients at different severity levels, accurately determining their level of gait abnormality, they said.

"This tool may help the clinician provide a better diagnosis of gait pathology, and may be used to observe if a prescribed medication has been effective on the gait of the patient or not," said Farnood Gholami from McGill University.

"Our developed framework can likely be used for other diseases causing gait abnormalities as well, for instance Parkinson’s disease," said Gholami.

According to Daria Trojan from McGill University, the tool could be useful "to assess treatment effects of certain interventions such as rehabilitation or medication, and to document MS disease progression as reflected by gait deterioration."

It may also be useful as a measure in clinical trials, she said.

The findings were published in the journal IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics.