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 Taking Stroke Rehabilitation Into The Technological Age

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Date posted: 09/05/2007

Rehabilitating patients who have suffered a stroke, via the sensory input from virtual reality systems has been under research and trial for a couple of years now.

Researchers at the University of Ulster, in Northern Ireland, along with Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association have now demonstrated a pilot system intended to regain full control of upper limbs.

?Stroke is the most common cause of disability in adults and can lead to permanent changes in a person?s life style,? explained Jacqueline Crosbie, from the University?s School of Rehabilitation Science, who is leading the study.

?It is estimated that out of the 80% of people who survive a stroke, between 30-66% will not regain use of their affected arm. This may be explained by the fact that current rehabilitation therapy largely concentrates on getting the patient mobile so that they can return home as soon as possible. Considerably less time is spent on encouraging arm and hand activities. It is also likely that the hospital environment may not provide sufficient stimulation for the patient to carry out arm and hand tasks independently.?

Their system intends to fill this gap in recovery.

The VR System

Their VR system uses straightforward components. A stereoscopic head mounted display (HMD) to completely immerse the patient?s eyes and ears within the virtual world is slipped on. Next comes a dataglove, to monitor the precise position and orientation of all fingers ? and provide a degree of haptic feedback. Lastly, additional sensors are attached to the patient?s shoulder.

?This virtual reality system focuses specifically on helping stroke patients regain more use of arm and hand movement, hopefully making everyday tasks such as eating, drinking and driving possible.?

The VR world is usually a representation of an environment with which the patient is familiar, such as a kitchen, living room or supermarket, enabling the practice of movements needed to carry out daily chores such as making a cup of tea.

?The are several important benefits of this system. Although initially the equipment will be tested out under the supervision of UU researchers, once trained, it may be possible for some patients to practice upper limb movements independently. This means that patients can practice more often and focus on specific movements or tasks in their own time, increasing the chances of a return to full use of the arms and hands,? said Ms Crosbie.

?Different virtual worlds provide rich environments to relieve the boredom of practising what can often be repetitive and frustrating tasks. The system can also be configured to exaggerate small movements, increasing the feeling of achievement and improving patient motivation.

"The pilot study has been very successful and we were encouraged to find that even participants with moderate to severe disability following stroke were able to engage positively with the system. We now plan to investigate more prolonged use of virtual reality therapy in a stroke."

See the full Story via external site: news.ulster.ac.uk

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