Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Virtual Reality Enhancement “Tricks” Stroke Patients into Recovery

This week, an article from bbc.co.uk revealed that researchers in Spain have found virtual reality enhancement to significantly improve stroke patients’ recovery by “tricking” them into thinking their affected limb is more accurate than it really is. In the pilot study of 20 stroke patients using 'Rehabilitation Gaming System' with a Microsoft Kinect sensor, researchers would sometimes enhance the virtual representation of the patients’ weakened limb to make it seem to move faster and more accurately, without letting them know. As a result, the patients unwittingly used their affected limbs with increased confidence.

Enhanced recovery
Belen Rubio from the Laboratory of Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain said: “Surprisingly, only 10 minutes of enhancement was enough to induce significant changes in the amount of spontaneous use of the affected limb.” The chances of the group of 20 patients using their paretic limb to reach for something straight in front of them was, on  average, 35% of the time – but after using virtual reality enhancement, the chances of them using their paretic arm increased to an average of 50% of the time – on par with a healthy person.

Increased motor function
Stroke patients tend to underutilise their paretic limbs, which can weaken them even more and lead to loss of motor function. The results of the study showed the researchers that stroke patients’ confidence play an important role in enhancing their recovery. Mrs Rubio also said: "This therapy could create a virtuous circle of recovery, in which positive feedback, spontaneous arm use and motor performance can reinforce each other. Engaging patients in this ongoing cycle of spontaneous arm use, training and learning could produce a remarkable impact on their recovery process."

Although the results show that virtual reality enhancement is, indeed, an effective therapy, further research on a larger number of participants will take place in the future to establish whether the therapy can impact stroke patients’ day-to-day lives.

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