Virtual reality platform may assist stroke survivors

DALLAS — A virtual reality platform that uses a sensorimotor rhythm-brain-computer interface to promote potentially therapeutic mental imagery of arm and hand movements was used successfully in six survivors of hemiparetic stroke, researchers reported at AHA 2013.

Current evidence-based management of stroke rehabilitation focuses on constraint-induced movement therapy and close work with a physical therapist, so a system that reduces the burden of retraining the motor system could be beneficial, said Alexander Doud, MS, of Synaptic Design and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

The 3-D virtual reality platform displays photorealistic human hands moving in coordination with a patient’s thoughts, according to Doud.

Researchers studied use of the system on two survivors of cortical stroke, four survivors of basal ganglia stroke and four healthy controls. Participants viewed the stimulus using 3-D anaglyph glasses that produced an illusion of seeing one’s arms through the lid of the stimulus box.

Participants performed 10 3-minute trials per session. Some sessions were on the 3-D virtual reality platform and some were on a standard cursor feedback control task.

Control accuracies for a binary classification task, such as reaching left or right, were as high as 81% using the virtual reality system and 87.4% using the cursor system, Doud said.

Participants “showed progression of skill in as little as three 2-hour experimental sessions,” the researchers wrote in a study abstract. “A comparison of [the virtual reality] system to a standard cursor feedback control task suggests that use of the immersive virtual reality system allowed subjects to produce more sustained and homogenous motor imagery as assessed by spectral analysis of subject [electroencephalogram].”

“These findings support the idea that stroke survivors can use a brain-computer interface to successfully learn to modulate their specific neural activity, activity that has been previously shown in the literature to be linked to recovery of the patient’s movement,” Doud told Cardiology Today, O&P Business News’ sister publication. “We also found that by using feedback that had meaning to the user, i.e. photorealistic 3D hands moving to accomplish everyday activities, our users were very engaged and motivated to continue training with the system. Maintaining user engagement is an important aspect of therapy that our system addresses very well.”

Doud said in an interview that while clinical utility of these systems won’t happen immediately, “the rise of small, powerful and affordable personal computing platforms like tablets and smartphones mean that this technology can be in the home someday in the not so distant future. Our goals as a research team have been to produce these systems with largely open source components or, when that is not possible, with highly affordable technology to ensure that the path to clinical utility is not unnecessarily complicated by high costs.” – by Erik Swain

For more information:

Doud AJ. Abstract #18886. Presented at: the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; Nov. 16-20, 2013; Dallas.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.