Patients often have a long and difficult road to recovery following a stroke, but now developers are turning to virtual reality to assist in their therapy.
Rehabilitation research group the Kessler Foundation and immersive interactive technologies company Virtualware are teaming up to develop a VR-based treatment for spatial neglect in stroke patients.
Spacial neglect is a condition that commonly occurs after a patient has a stroke where a person has difficulty paying attention to the side of space contralateral to the injured cerebral hemisphere. It can impede rehab outcomes, prolong hospitalization, and increase risk of falling in a hospital, according to the Kessler Foundation.
The condition is fairly common following a stroke, occurring in 50 percent of stroke patients and 30 percent of traumatic brain injury patients at inpatient rehabilitation facilities, according to the Kessler Foundation.
The plan is to develop an interactive “game-like” VR environment, called the VR-SRT System, to improve functional abilities in people with spatial neglect following a stroke.
The technology will use VR’s 3D virtual environment to create immersive training scenarios for people with spacial neglect, according to a statement. Eventually the goal is to help patients remap and realign their visual and motor modalities using this 3D VR interface.
The system will work on a Vive headset and use LeapMotion to track the hand movement of patients. Developers noted that the therapy game is being designed to be fun and motivating for patients.
Co-directing the project is Peii Chen, who said that VR is becoming more common and less expensive, creating an opportunity to use the technology in new ways. She compared the technology to smartphone apps; today most everyone has a smartphone, leading developers to create more apps and more assisted devices on the phones.
Currently the end goals for the software are not set in stone and will be changing as the development gets underway. Chen said that with each new prototype patients and clinicians will come into the lab and give feedback. But Chen said the technology offers a chance to do something new that traditional therapists can’t.
“We are not going to replicate something you can easily do in therapy. We would just do that in reality,” Chen told MobiHealthNews. “Since we have the tool to do [therapy] in VR tech, we are trying to create new therapy in this area.”
Several companies have started to turn to digital health to treat stroke patients, but VR could be the next avenue of development, some say.
“Currently there are several tools that facilitate rehabilitation tasks in this type of patient. Many of them, very effective, are based on expensive robotic technology. Virtual reality comes to fill a gap within the therapies and tools for rehabilitation, which aims, in an affordable and universal way, to provide new systems that motivate users to perform their rehabilitation sessions, both in the medical office and at home,” Julio Alvarez, eHealth Business Unit Manager at Virtualware, wrote in an email to MobiHealthNews. “Another advantage of using these technologies is that they permit the user’s rehabilitation sessions to be recorded in an objective manner, keeping a complete record of what has been done, which will allow the healthcare professional to make a more detailed analysis of the patient's evolution.”
Alvarez said that a tool like the VR-SRT system could eventually be used at home and in clinics.
“The initial idea is that it should be a system that allows patients to work directly in the therapist's office,” Alvarez wrote. “The user would sit down and put on virtual reality glasses to immerse themselves in the scenarios, always under the supervision of a qualified therapist. The next logical step could be to bring this type of technology into patients' homes, so that tele-rehabilitation could be done.”