Virtual Reality (VR) has been used as a great resource within the medical industry, and it has again proven its worth. Eight paraplegic patients have regained both sensation and motor skills after undergoing the “Walk Again” neuro rehabilitation program using VR and robotics. The patients had all been paralyzed 3-13 years earlier due to spinal cord injuries, and had not shown signs of improvement with traditional treatments. Using this program, they reported gaining back some feeling sensations such as pain and temperature. They also showed improvement in their ability to walk, and after 12 months of the program four patients were upgraded to an ‘incomplete paraplegia’ classification.
The program consists of multiple components, including using a VR headset to simulate and control an avatar body, wearing a harness to walk on a treadmill, and using an exo-skeleton suit. All activities were monitored through a Brain Machine Interface (BMI) cap, and the patients received tactile feedback on their arms when their feet (both virtual and real) touched the ground. The patients learnt to control their movements purely by thought, even as the activities became harder as the program progressed.
Another recent breakthrough is the treatment of phantom limb pain in amputees. Swiss company MindMaze have successfully trailed their medical VR program that allows amputee patients to visualize and ‘move’ their missing limbs, helping to ease the phantom pain. The program was trialed in Switzerland, and the company is now opening their program up with patients from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. If successful after a 6-month trial, the program will then be opened to a greater selection of soldiers. Their research has allowed MindMaze to raise $100 million, which will be used to research ways to apply their program to sufferers of other neurological issues such as stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Parkinson’s disease.
These results have cemented the use of VR within neuro rehabilitation, and hopefully VR can be found as a useful tool within other rehabilitation programs.
Header Image: User of the Walk Again program. AASDAP/Lente Viva Filmes