Researchers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, have filed a patent application for a PC-based virtual reality system that works alone to provide stroke patients effective, intensive hand-impairment therapy even years after a stroke has occurred.
The new system reportedly uses two types of sensor-equipped gloves along with programs running on a PC to provide both therapy and a way for the therapist to chart progress.
In use, the patient’s gloved hands are linked to virtual hands on the PC monitor and the patient’s actual hand movements are mimicked on-screen. By interacting and playing with various onscreen graphics – including fluttering butterflies, piano keyboards and mechanical hands – the patient performs intensive rehab exercises without drudgery.
The PC-based design is also said to open the door for ‘tele-rehabilitation’, which would allow therapists to work with patients from remote locations.
The Rutgers researchers tested four patients with hand impairment suffered in strokes from one to four years prior to the study. After three weeks of the new therapy, the researchers found up to a 140 percent improvement in range of motion for the thumb and up to a 118 percent improvement in the ability to move one finger at a time. There were also significant improvements in such areas as finger speed and finger strength.
‘We found that virtual reality alone could be used to improve the condition of chronic stroke patients, without the use of traditional rehab exercises,’ said Grigore C. Burdea, director of the Human-Machine Interface Laboratory at Rutgers’ Centre for Advanced Information Processing. ‘It provides a way for patients to completely immerse themselves in rehab, and actually look forward to treatment. As a consequence, the results are fast and dramatic.’