Omaha, NE (September 21, 2015) - Stroke patients may see improved movement and use of their respective paretic limbs after introduction to virtual reality-based therapy, according to a small pilot study led by Belén Rubio of the Laboratory of Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
The researchers studied 20 hemiparetic stroke patients to see if acquired nonuse could be overcome by reinforcement-based training strategies in a virtual environment.
Hemiparesis is a common result of a stroke due to a loss of neural tissue that limits cognitive and motor functions. Patients often overcompensate for this by using the healthy limb more than the paretic limb, even though both work. The benefits of overusing a healthy limb, as compared to balancing use between both healthy and paretic limbs, are short term. The long term-effects are additional loss of neural and behavioral functions of the paretic limb, or "acquired nonuse."
With a Rehabilitation Gaming System linked to a Microsoft Kinect sensor, patients controlled an avatar that synchronized to their own movements. Specifically, the gaming system allows the user to control a virtual body that is viewed from a first-person perspective on a computer screen. The participant's movements are captured and transmitted to the screen by the Microsoft sensor.
The study was divided into three sessions: baseline, intervention and washout. During the intervention session, researchers represented patients' paretic limb movements in the virtual simulation as more accurate than in reality. This, in a sense, "tricked" patients into believing their paretic limb was performing at a higher level than it was.
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