How a suburban hospital uses virtual reality for stroke rehabilitation

David Gerfen slips on a headset and finds himself in a meals truck, tasked with placing collectively a made-to-order cheese and tomato sandwich.

When transferred to a different digital atmosphere, Jervin has to make use of one hand to deflect a blue ball in the direction of him like a throwing machine throughout a inexperienced subject.

Gervin, 80, is just not an avid participant. A stroke survivor wears digital actuality goggles throughout therapy periods at Northwestern Drugs Mariangoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.

“That is one in every of our latest video games,” mentioned occupational therapist Nicholas Giovanniti, and instructed Jervin to maneuver his weaker proper arm. “Okay, I get it. Transfer ahead. Glorious.”

Digital actuality has a major presence within the healthcare subject. Some hospitals provide immersive digital actuality experiences to calm and distract sufferers in ache or as a solution to escape a chemotherapy appointment. Digital actuality has develop into a navigational instrument, permitting mind surgeons to plan procedures and take a 3D take a look at tumors.

Mariangwi is exploring a digital actuality system as a part of a rehabilitation program for grownup stroke victims. Docs see the potential of digital actuality in serving to sufferers keep motivated in an intense therapy routine.


“We hope with this new kind of expertise that sufferers will likely be extra excited about therapy as a result of it’s totally different,” mentioned Dr. Mahesh Ramachandran, the hospital’s chief medical officer and stroke rehabilitation specialist. “It is extra thrilling and enjoyable, fairly than doing a monotonous type of train routine.”

Elmhurst resident David Gervin, proper, is provided with a head-mounted show. Occupational therapist Nicolas Giovanniti makes certain that the system matches appropriately and is snug for the affected person.
– Paul Valade | Employees photographer

How does digital actuality work

Sharon Schmidt suffered a debilitating stroke final December whereas laying out Christmas decorations outdoors her dwelling in Glendale Heights.

“I could not do something with my left leg, I could not do something with my left arm or my left hand, and I had bother talking,” Schmidt mentioned.

Schmidt, 74, was launched to VR leisure by her grandchildren. When her therapist Marianjoy prompt she put on VR gear, Schmidt was keen to provide him a shot.

“Something that helps you get again to the place you have been after you had a stroke — I assist that,” Schmidt mentioned.

The Rehabilitation Hospital equips sufferers with a digital actuality system Penumbra. Sufferers put on goggles and 6 sensors positioned round each arms and their waist, above the elbows and decrease again, in order that their digital picture matches their actions in actual life.

Gervin remained seated whereas his therapist directed and monitored his digital workouts utilizing a handheld pill. The corporate says some actions are designed to train hand-eye coordination, response time and motor management.

“We’re engaged on a sitting stability,” Giovannitti mentioned, encouraging correct posture. “We’re particularly engaged on his proper arm, engaged on coordination and dealing on coordination in addition to with the ability to observe instructions.”

Mariangwi is testing digital actuality in a research led by Ramachandran and Dr. Druvil Pandya, a neurologist at Northwestern Drugs Central Dupage in Winfield.

First, they assess how effectively sufferers can tolerate the digital actuality system. Therapists examine for indicators of movement illness, dizziness, or nausea. The research can be restricted to as much as 20 sufferers with higher physique weak spot brought on by stroke.

Docs hope to publish their findings, however when and the place will rely on the research’s completion and what the outcomes are.

“Everybody we examined has already given us constructive suggestions,” Pandya mentioned. “The subsequent step is to take a look at medical outcomes, whether or not that, together with typical rehabilitation remedy, improves outcomes?”

The researchers described digital actuality as a complement to — not a substitute — for normal remedy. The 20 or so Marianjoy sufferers will full six periods — half-hour of digital actuality adopted by half an hour of typical remedy for every session — over a two-week interval.

“We name them very particular actions in order that typically they really feel like gaming,” mentioned Gina Barry, government vice chairman of Penumbra, a Marianjoy digital actuality firm.
– Paul Valade | Employees photographer

Unimaginable Options

Penumbra is just not a tech firm, however venturing right into a digital actuality remedy was the subsequent logical step.

The healthcare firm is greatest recognized for making catheters used to take away a blood clot and restore blood stream in a stroke affected person’s mind. Penumbra constructed the REAL system with Sixense Enterprises, the digital actuality developer it acquired final 12 months.

“VR presents some nice options,” mentioned Geeta Barry, government vice chairman and basic supervisor of holistic healthcare at Penumbra. “And we see that it actually makes a giant distinction or distinction to sufferers, in addition to to the therapist’s expertise as a result of therapists have an entire new approach of partaking their sufferers.”

Therapists step by step enhance the extent of problem so sufferers work on extra superior actions within the default settings.

“What digital actuality does is it immerses you within the expertise,” mentioned Barry, a local of Arlington Heights and a graduate of Buffalo Grove Excessive College. “At a minimal, it makes you cheerful that you simply’re having fun with enjoying a recreation.”

The system charts the affected person’s progress, the period of time spent in these actions, and the vary of movement within the shoulders, elbows, forearms, and wrists. Cover and Search with animated penguins is designed to train a affected person’s cervical vary of movement.

“This distraction comes from ‘I get extra out of my remedy expertise, as a result of I am so concerned within the exercise, I do not take into consideration the ache,'” Barry mentioned.

The corporate additionally factors to a 2019 meta-analysis of earlier research suggesting that digital actuality “might apply rules related to neuroplasticity,” that’s, the mind’s capacity to kind new neural pathways round broken areas.

Dr. Mahesh Ramachandran, left, chief medical officer of Northwestern Medicine Mariangwi Rehabilitation Hospital, and Dr Drovil Pandya, Neurologist, Dubag Central Hospital, right, watch Elmhurst resident David Gervin as he navigates a virtual reality environment.

Dr. Mahesh Ramachandran, left, chief medical officer of Northwestern Drugs Mariangwi Rehabilitation Hospital, and Dr Drovil Pandya, Neurologist, Dubag Central Hospital, proper, watch Elmhurst resident David Gervin as he navigates a digital actuality atmosphere.
– Paul Valade | Employees photographer

What do sufferers say?

Giovanniti adjusts the pace and trajectory of the flying blue ball, and Jervin appears to reply intuitively. He extends his arm to strike her away.

“His sitting stability has improved,” Giovannitti mentioned. “It is actually steady there.” Jerry’s spouse, Jerry, agreed, saying, “It helps him be slightly extra coordinated.”

Schmidt progressed from utilizing a walker to a cane. She cheers for her grandchildren at soccer and baseball video games. She will climb stairs on her personal.

However virtually a 12 months in the past, it was troublesome to finish a easy digital job.

“It wasn’t straightforward to place these birds of their nests,” Schmidt mentioned.

However she is trying ahead to her VR periods.

“I might suggest it to anybody who has had a stroke.”