Researchers at UK-based University of East Anglia (UEA), in collaboration with Evolv Rehabilitation Technologies, have created a new virtual reality (VR) gaming platform designed to help improve the lives of stroke patients suffering from complex neurological syndromes caused by their stroke.

The new technology, which has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), was recently unveiled at RehabWeek in Toronto.

Around 30% to 50% of stroke survivors experience ?hemispatial neglect, which leaves people unaware of things located on one side of their body and greatly reduces their ability to live independently.

“A stroke can damage the brain, so that it no longer receives information about the space around one side of the world,” lead researcher Dr Stephanie Rossit, from UEA’s school of Psychology, explains in a media release from UEA.

“If this happens, people may not be aware of anything on one side, usually the same side they also lost their movement. This is called hemispatial neglect.

“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.”

Current rehabilitation treatments involve different types of visual and physical coordination tasks (visuomotor) and cognitive exercises, ­ many of which are ?paper and pen-based.

The new non-immersive VR technology being showcased updates these paper and pen tasks for the digital age – using videogame technology instead, per the release.

“We know that adherence is key to recovery – so we wanted to create something that makes it fun to stick to a rehabilitation task,” Roissit adds.

In one such game, the patient sees a random series of apples, some complete and some with a piece bitten off. The apples vibrate and move to provide greater stimulation to the patient.

“The aim for the patient is to choose the maximum number of complete apples that they see in the quickest time possible,” states David Fried, CEO of Evolv.

“A person with visual neglect would quite often only see a small number of correct targets to the right-hand side of the screen. Therapists can control the complexity of the game by increasing or reducing the number of apples on screen.”

As well as aiding diagnosis, the new game aims to improve rehabilitation by including elements such as scoring and rewards to engage the patient and improve adherence to their treatment.

Fried said: “Traditional rehabilitation treatment is quite monotonous and boring, so this gamification aspect is really important to help people stick with their treatment,” Fried adds.

“Our goal is to use technology to make rehabilitation fun and engaging, and we have applied this to our Spatial Neglect therapy solution. The great thing about it is that it can be used not only in clinics but also in patients’ homes, thereby giving them access to personalized rehabilitation without leaving their living room.”

The team has previously worked with stroke survivors, carers, and clinicians to assess the feasibility, usability, and acceptability of new gaming technology, per the release.

Dr Rossit said: ³This technology has the potential to improve both independence and quality of life of stroke survivors,” Rossit shares.

“This innovative therapy could also improve long-term care after stroke by providing a low-cost, enjoyable therapy that can be self-administered anywhere and anytime, without the need for a therapist to be present on every occasion.”

[Source: University of East Anglia]