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How Virtual Reality Can Help With Stroke Rehabilitation

Lena Kirakosyan's picture
virtual reality for stroke treatment

After a stroke, patients often have physical and mental disabilities. People who suffered from stroke have to visit a neurologist on a regular basis. Nine out of ten survivors have some degree of impaired motor function of the upper limbs, which is the most common post-stroke complication. Rehabilitation training should not only be lengthy, repetitive, specific, and complex, but it must also be motivating and intensive.


What is the role of virtual reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a relatively new approach to the rehabilitation of stroke, which has shown moderate effectiveness in improving motor functions. VR can allow the implementation of sensorimotor feedback when movements are reproduced in a virtual environment using motion capture technology. This enhanced VR experience has previously demonstrated the ability to increase patient motivation and stimulate neural connections in the motor system to assist in functional recovery.

Can virtual reality help with the rehabilitation of a stroke?

In an experimental study published in the journal NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, researchers from Switzerland studied the potential use of upper limb rehabilitation based on VR. The main goal of the study was to estimate the intensity of the training (the number of repetitions divided by the number of minutes of active therapy) and the rehabilitation dose (the number of repetitions). They examined the progress in training based on how well the upper limbs functioned, as well as the safety and stability of this technology.

Ten patients who had one-sided weakness after a stroke were included in the study, which used a motor rehabilitation system based on Mind Motion PRO VR. The process itself consisted of two one-hour sessions per week for five weeks with a physiotherapist to complete tasks in accordance with the patient's needs and capabilities. Assessments were conducted at the baseline (before the training), after treatment and at the end of four weeks. Participants engaged in exercises with the help of VR, which stimulated the shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrists in various complexities with the help of game scenarios, which included the indication, extension, and capture of objects in the virtual space.

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How effective was therapy with virtual reality?

All ten study participants completed a total of 10 training sessions on treatment. The study showed that the average duration of training increased by approximately ten minutes, and the average effective training time (the number of minutes when participants were actively trained, with the exception of breaks) per session doubled in the last session of the exercises. The intensity of training (the number of targeted movements per minute with effective training time) gradually increased from the first to the last workout.

Secondly, the study assessed the functions of the upper limbs, active range of motion, and muscle strength, among which all showed an increase from the baseline. No side effects were reported, and during treatment, the levels of pain and stress were low, indicating that Virtual Reality treatment is tolerable. Finally, the participants demonstrated high concentration and comfort with movements and expressed interest in continuing after ten sessions, which indicates a high level of commitment and motivation for treatment with Virtual Reality.

Also see how computer software could help doctors predict key stroke treatment outcome.

Overall, this pilot study demonstrated the ability of Virtual-Reality-based treatment to provide effective training, since the efficacy ratio (ratio of treatment session time to active therapy time) was 86.3%, which is higher than for conventional treatments. The study supports the potential for Virtual-Realty-based programs as a rehabilitation therapy to improve functional and motor performance. There are plans for future studies that include control groups, a larger sample size, stratified groups, and more intensive interventions with different motor assessments.

Reference: Donetsk Medical University