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 In Motor Skills, Stroke

Virtual Reality StrokeAfter a stroke, many people struggle to regain full use of their paretic—partially paralyzed—limbs. A new study finds that a virtual reality game could give stroke patients the confidence boost they need to begin using and strengthening limbs impaired by stroke. The study, from the Laboratory of Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain, found that showing patients an enhanced version of their limb with virtual reality lead to more spontaneous use of the paretic limb later on.

Twenty stroke patients participated in the study. The patients used a virtual reality program that gave a first-person view of the patient using his or her arms. The researchers, without informing the patients, sometimes enhanced the visual representation of the patient’s paretic limb on-screen.

Just 10 minutes of virtual enhancement of the paretic limb was enough to make stroke patients change their behavior after the study. Before the study, there was, on average, a 35 percent chance that a patient would spontaneously use his or her paretic arm to reach for something directly in front of them. Afterwards, there was a 50 percent chance that the patient would use his or her paretic arm.

Lead researcher Belen Rubio said of the findings, “This therapy could create a virtuous circle of recovery, in which positive feedback, spontaneous arm use and motor performance can reinforce each other. Engaging patients in this ongoing cycle of spontaneous arm use, training and learning could produce a remarkable impact on their recovery process.”

The findings are important because many stroke patients favor their stronger limb. A therapy that encourages patients to use and strengthen limbs affected by stroke could significantly improve the ease of daily activities.

This research is published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

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