Virtual reality treatment speeds up rehabilitation

Innovative games can help patients with impaired hands.

What can games do for you? It seems that for those suffering with certain physical impairments, it may be the answer they have been waiting for.

Innovative research has been conducted at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, led by Cup-sze Choi, which has shown that the combination of using virtual reality and games can help patients with disabilities, in particular those with disabilities of the hands.

The research is based on haptic technology. Haptic technology encompasses a whole set of methods aimed at simulating real sensation in the hand through the use of things like vibrations. The particular method used in this study is called force feedback, which gives give a real weight feeling to the actions being done on the game. This is supposed to make it easier for those suffering from impairment due to illnesses such as stroke or cerebral palsy, as well as many other neurological diseases.

The idea of incorporating a game into rehabilitation is an important factor to the success of this research. Choi and his team believe that the rewarding aspect which the patients feel from successes in the game and the benefits of the technology gives the patient the best combination for rehabilitation. This was tested out in their preliminary study which was done on a group of school children with hand impairments and the results showed that they were completing tasks much more quickly than they did before, just after two weeks of using the new technology.

As the patient progresses through their challenges, the difficulty is automatically adjusted accordingly. This means that as the coordination of muscles improve, the games will become more difficult or will ask more of the patient. This gives the patients the ability to work at their own time and thrive toward a goal which fits their particular case and wishes. There is also the added bonus of accessibility, which is a problem for current methods. Many patients requiring rehabilitation include cerebral palsy patients and stroke patients. They often make uncontrolled movements and it is therefore harder for them to use all the equipment necessary to help these patients recover. This leaves a significant gap in their progress. The technologies being developed by Choi and his team make the process of rehabilitation increasingly accessible and enjoyable.

Virtual reality in games has become very accessible to the non-medical market over the past few years. Microsoft developed Kinect, the virtual movement apparatus for their Xbox console and other gaming companies have also followed this path. Medical research in this area is catching up to their use of the technology in the same fashion but as a therapeutic agent.

The research is ongoing and longer term studies are on the table for the near future. The hope is to include other technologies and see long term results.

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