Virtual reality in stroke rehabilitation: an update

June 1, 2018

If you’re a regular visitor to Strokemark, you already know something about virtual reality (VR). VR is the interactive video gaming technology that is showing considerable promise as a safe and relatively inexpensive approach to post-stroke arm, hand, and mind training.

As is often the case with new technologies, things are moving fast in the world of VR. Advances are being made all the time. Which also means there are gaps in our understanding of exactly which elements of VR most benefit stroke patients. If we can reduce these ‘knowledge gaps’, providing a clearer picture of the most valuable elements of virtual rehabilitation, developers can optimize the experience to provide maximum benefit to patients.

Watch this TED talk to learn more about Virtual Reality in rehabilitation

Taking a closer look at virtual reality

But since VR is a science as well as an art, it requires more than just gaming to identify what works and what doesn’t. It involves research. In this case, research that compiled data from 33 independent studies recruiting a total of more than 900 patients. All studies focused on the use of VR in post-stroke arm, hand, and cognitive training. Nineteen of the studies used purpose-designed virtual environment (VE) platforms, and fourteen used commercially available computerized gaming (CG) systems.

The researchers found that overall, VR platforms offered additional, sustained benefits to recovery at both the sub-acute and the chronic stages of stroke compared with conventional approaches. They found the greatest benefit to be associated with the use of purpose-designed VE platforms. CG systems provided smaller, but still notable, improvements.

So what does this tell us about VR? It tells us that the system works. And it provides additional benefit when added to conventional therapy. But it also tells us that not all VR systems are equal concerning rehabilitation benefit. So before you dive into a virtual world, talk with your therapist about which approach best suits your needs.

The lead author of this study is Anna Aminov, School of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Editorial note:

Virtual Reality is a relatively new technique in rehabilitation. It can add value to your rehab, but it requires an experienced therapist to assist in the choice and set-up of a valid system.

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