Spatial neglect is a complex condition caused by traumatic brain injuries, and is especially common after a stroke. It is usually characterized by the inability to perceive and orient oneself towards sensory or spatial input in a given area of space, usually on a given side of their body. For example, someone with spatial neglect may not be able to apply makeup to half their face. Spatial neglect can also cause a number of problems, such as balance issues. For stroke patients, specifically, spatial neglect can be a major hindrance to effective recovery, posing challenges to nearly a third of patients.
While recognizing spatial neglect in stroke patients has become more prevalent and timely, there’s still a significant need for effective treatments to facilitate better recovery. One potential treatment solution? Virtual reality.
A team of researchers at the Kessler Foundation, in collaboration with Spanish company Virtualware, have developed a therapeutic program for patients with spatial neglect using virtual reality. Their program could help standardized certain forms of physical therapy for patients with spatial neglect and make virtual reality a leading therapeutic option.
Researchers describe their virtual reality therapy in a recent paper published in the Annals of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
The virtual reality software was developed iteratively, taking cues from preliminary usage with both stroke patients in physical therapy and their therapists. The result is a monitor worn on the head and sensors to track hand motion. Users are then instructed to complete a series of increasingly challenging motor tasks. The software includes four different modules of games that are used as part of the therapy. The program can also transmit specific data about a user's performance to help therapists better track a patient's progress through therapy.
Researchers found that preliminary use of the virtual reality system was overwhelmingly seen as valuable by therapists who used it with their patients. The next steps, according to the team, are to conduct additional studies and explore the effectiveness of the virtual reality system.