New research finds that virtual reality (VR) and other video games could improve stroke patients' recovery. According to research reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, the games led to significant improvement in arm strength following stroke and could provide an affordable, enjoyable and effective way to intensify treatment. Although the results don't specify a remote monitoring component, which ultimately would enable stroke survivors to perform such therapy at home while being monitored by clinicians, a move in that direction would likely make sense once the results of more conclusive studies have been analyzed.
Researchers analyzed seven observational and five randomized trials, representing a total of 195 patients, ages 26 to 88, who had suffered mild to moderate strokes, according to a statement released by the American Heart Association. Each study explored the effects of electronic games on upper arm strength and function. In the observational studies, researchers noted an average 14.7 percent improvement in motor strength following virtual reality sessions. Motor function, or the ability to perform standard tasks, showed a 20 percent average improvement. And in randomized clinical trials, patients who played VR games showed a statistically significant 4.89 times higher chance of improvement in motor strength compared to those who received standard therapy.
According to the AHA: "Although treatment varied by study, most patients played 20 to 30 hours during four to six weeks of therapy on one of several computer-based technology systems: three traditional video game systems (i.e., Glasstron, IREX®, Playstation® Eye Toy®) and nine virtual reality systems (e.g., Virtual Teacher, CyberGlove, VR Motion, PneuGlove, Wii™).
"The observational studies followed patients in treatment to monitor changes over time. The randomized trials – considered more scientifically rigorous – randomly assigned two groups of patients to get either standard or virtual reality therapy."
Some of the smaller studies added virtual reality or video gaming on top of conventional therapy, which Gustavo Saposnik, M.D., M.Sc., lead author of the study and director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto said could limit this pooled analysis by skewing results for those who received more therapy. As of this time, there have been no large, randomized, controlled trials that compared the combination of virtual reality with conventional physical and occupational therapy to conventional treatment alone. Saposnik feels such a study is needed.
Photo obtained from CyberGlove Systems.