A virtual world which helps people with Parkinson's disease to walk normally has been created by an Oxford computer company.

Oxford Computer Consultants, of St Ebbe's, has designed a head-mounted device monitoring the user's movements which are then transmitted to a computer screen.

Parkinson's causes a paralysing rigidity which makes it difficult to walk, and sufferers wearing the OCC headset can see an image of black and white stripes whenever they hesitate. This stimulates the brain to recover from the paralysis.

The effect is known as kinesia paradoxa.

The headset allows the direction and speed of the stripes to change to match the needs of different patients.

Eventually, OCC hopes the system will allow experts to track a patient's movements and plan suitable rehabilitation exercises, changing the virtual world which the patient sees to include chairs or tables. Parkinson's sufferers can find it difficult to negotiate everyday objects such as furniture.

Dr Reynold Greenlaw, of OCC, said: "The impaired mobility that patients with Parkinson's often have makes it difficult for them to travel to clinics for therapy.

"Using virtual reality to transmit images from wherever the patient is removes the stress of having to make such long and inconvenient journeys."

The system, called Parreha (Parkinson's rehabilitation), is part of a pan-European research project involving Athens University, the European Parkinson's association EuroPark and the European Union's Joint Research Centre.