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Fall 2010
TECHNOLOGY

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Survivors on the Big Screen

New Virtual Reality Technology Benefits Stroke Patients

By Randolf Palmaira, PT, MS, MSA

Imagine stroke survivors working toward their potential at each therapy session, eager to complete the tasks at hand. That’s exactly what’s happening at rehabilitation centers around the country where patients are participating in computer-generated, interactive, virtual reality rehab programs.

With virtual rehab, patients see themselves starring in a virtual reality scenario on a large plasma screen—for example, banging on a set of drums or kicking soccer balls into a goal net. Positive music and brightly colored graphics motivate patients to work harder and longer during sessions. A physical therapist stands next to patients, coaching and guiding them through the exercise scenarios on the screen. A camera videotaping the person is mounted on the plasma screen so the entire session is captured in real time, which gives immediate feedback to the person doing the rehab.

Therapists report that stroke survivors are more involved in their treatment and are willing to work longer and harder during virtual rehab therapy sessions. Patients report that they enjoy virtual rehab so much that they often don’t realize that they are getting therapy.

The ultimate goal of the virtual rehab program is for the patient to be able to transfer the skills received during rehab to the outside world. Candidates for this new form of rehab are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the patient’s situation.

Tailoring Virtual Rehab

Virtual reality exercise systems are versatile, allowing therapists to select exercises and preset parameters for each patient. To maximize rehabilitation, a therapist can tailor a session by setting range of motion and level of difficulty and selecting the parts of the body to be stimulated. 

Monitoring Progress with Patients

At the end of each virtual rehab session, the therapist shares data on the screen with the results for the current session, as well as previous sessions, so that they can view their progress. The immediate feedback is satisfying for both the patient and the therapist. It is during this part of the session that the patient/therapist team can decide whether to change goals for future sessions. 

A patient usually participates in virtual rehab for two to six weeks, depending upon goals and progress. Sessions generally range from 15 minutes to one hour, depending on the patient’s ability and goals. These sessions are done in addition to traditional physical therapy.

Stroke Survivors Benefit from Virtual Rehab

While there are many quantifiable statistics generated by the computer to illustrate progress at the conclusion of each session, the motivational and emotional factors cannot be measured in quite the same way.  A survivor’s enjoyment can be measured by increased self confidence, an eagerness to participate during therapy session and a willingness to be more compliant in following treatment protocols.

Finding a Virtual Rehab Program Close By

Contact a local rehab center or physician to identify virtual rehab programs in your area.  

 

Virtual Reality Rehab Benefits

Therapy offers these advantages:

  • 
Improves cognition, balance, strength and coordination.
  • Allows tailoring sessions to patient needs.
  • 
Provides immediate feedback with computerized data on patients’ current and past performances.
  • 
Enables continuous one-on-one interaction with a physical therapist.
  • Increases self confidence.
  • Boosts work productivity and duration.

 

Randolf Palmaira, PT, MS, MSA, is executive director of the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Brooklyn, N.Y. and a member of Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, a not-for-profit organization.

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