There are about 15 million people affected by a stroke each year in the world. About 5 million die and 5 million are left with a permanent disability. For the survivors, it is very difficult to return to a normal activity, such as controlling their movements and becoming again completely independent. Now, Israeli researchers are using virtual reality and computer technology to improve stroke rehabilitation. Their new software can identify different types of brain injuries, 'calculate the probability of recovery and recommend the most effective ways to treat the patient.' This VR system will facilitate the design of new clinical tools. But read more...
Previous virtual reality systems were used to fight chronic pains. As you can see on the left, "a patient views himself on an LCD screen and plays Hadasit's 'catch me if you can' VR system game during trials which are helping patients regain movement and combat chronic pain. (Credit: Hadasit, the Technology Transfer Company of Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Jerusalem, Israel, via CNN.com).
The development of this software has been led by computer scientists Dr. Larry Manevitz of the Neurocomputation Laboratory at the University of Haifa and Dr. Uri Feintuch, a neuroscientist working at the School of Occupational Therapy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
But how does this VR system work? "Israeli hospitals have recently started to use virtual reality therapy for stroke patients. One commonly used program has the patient watch his virtual image on a screen. For example, tennis balls are virtually thrown at the patient from all directions and the patients' actual hand motions are recorded on screen. In the first stage of development of this new program, [the researchers] fed video sessions of this virtual reality therapy into their newly developed program. With the new program, the computer 'learned' to differentiate between different types of brain injuries: cerebrovascular accident (CVA) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). During further testing, the computer was able to accurately diagnose, between 90%-98% of the time, whether the patient was healthy, or had suffered a traumatic brain injury or a stroke."
So the computers were able to deliver a correct diagnosis. But doctors can also do it almost perfectly. So what is new with this VR system? "What is important, however, is the next phase of development, in which the computer is able to do things that doctors cannot. 'As soon as the computer identified the injury, we have a model that we can use for further testing and analysis – something that cannot be done on live patients. Using a computer model, we can experiment with different treatment options and decide which will be the most effective. The computer can also define how much the patient will be able to rehabilitate. These are things that would take a long time for medicine to accomplish, and some of them cannot be done at all,' explained Dr. Manevitz."
For more information, you can read "VR helping aid stroke recovery" (Matthew Knight for CNN, September 24, 2007). Here are some short quotes. "Dr Uri Feintuch explains how the VR system is set up. 'We chose not to use a Head Mounted Display (HMD) as we generally prefer not to put any cumbersome gear on patients who have suffered a stroke. After initially using a projection system we concluded that a large flat screen would do.'"
Knight explains also gives more details. "Patients view themselves in real time on an LCD screen and use a mouse or joystick. Small movements of the mouse by the patient create large virtual movements of the patients arm, hand or shoulder on the screen. A video camera photographs patients and a computer simulates the functions based on the physical presence of each patient at that moment. 'The patient sees himself moving his arm, even though he really is not,' explains Shimon Shiri, [a rehabilitation psychologist at Hadassah and an inventor of the VR system]. 'The virtual experience activates the mirror neurons and induces a therapeutic effect on the brain that reduces pain and increases function. By viewing the movement of the arm without pain, the brain undergoes a corrective learning process.'"
Sources: University of Haifa news release, March 12, 2008; and various websites
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