New low-cost VR technology aims to rehabilitate stroke patients

24 Jun 2019

Image: University of East Anglia

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have unveiled video game VR technology designed to help rehabilitate stroke survivors.

University of East Anglia researchers have today (24 June) revealed a new non-immersive virtual reality (VR) technology at RehabWeek in Toronto that is designed to aid in stroke rehabilitation.

The team worked with industry collaborator Evolv to create a gaming platform to improve the lives of stroke patients with complex neurological syndromes caused by their stroke.

There are 1.2m people who have been affected by stroke in the UK, according to the university, between 30pc and 50pc of which have what is called ‘hemispatial neglect’. The condition leaves people unaware of things located on one side of their body, which makes independent living difficult.

“A stroke can damage the brain, so that it no longer receives information about the space around one side of the world,” said lead researcher Dr Stephanie Rossit. “If this happens, people may not be aware of anything on one side, usually the same side they also lost their movement.

“These people tend to have very poor recovery and are left with long-term disability. Patients with this condition tell us that it is terrifying. They bump into things, they’re scared to use a wheelchair, so it really is very severe and life-changing.”

Existing treatments for the condition involve different kinds of visual and physical coordination tasks and cognitive exercises, many of which are paper-and-pen-based. Incorporating the VR technology, as well as digitising the process, makes it more fun for patients.

Rossit said: “We know that adherence is key to recovery so we wanted to create something that makes it fun to stick to a rehabilitation task.”

Rossit hopes that the university’s solution will improve cost-effectiveness for the NHS’s stroke rehabilitation programme. The technology also allows for patients to engage in therapy that can be self-administered without the need for a therapist to be present at a time that suits the patient.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic