Researchers have created a virtual reality clinic to make it easier for stroke survivors to attend their physical and occupational therapy sessions. Results from a proof-of-concept study suggest that the technology – and the social connection it facilitates – are effective at encouraging therapy participation.
“Physical and occupational therapy are important parts of stroke recovery, in terms of helping survivors regain dexterity and functional motor ability,” says Derek Kamper, co-author of a paper on the work. “However, stroke survivors often face significant challenges in attending their therapy sessions. For example, many survivors don’t live near facilities that offer relevant therapy services.
“Our goal was to create an online, virtual reality platform that allows patients and therapists to interact in what is essentially real time,” says Kamper, associate professor, North Carolina State University.
The resulting system, called Virtual Environment for Rehabilitative Gaming Exercises (VERGE), is a software package that makes use of Kinect motion-sensor hardware to track the movement of patients and therapists. The system was developed by Kamper with collaborators at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and the University of Illinois at Chicago. VERGE currently supports three different rehabilitation activities, such as hitting a virtual ball back and forth when multiple users are present, or bouncing it off a wall when in single-user mode.
In the proof-of-concept study, researchers worked with 20 stroke survivors to evaluate the system. All participants had chronic impairment; 17 were men; and the mean age of the participants was 60.
The paper, “Home-based upper extremity stroke therapy using a multi-user virtual reality environment: a randomized trial,” is published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.