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 surroundings, 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, isn’t an avid participant. A stroke survivor wears digital actuality goggles throughout therapy periods at Northwestern Drugs Mariangoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.

“That is one among 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 approach 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. Medical doctors see the potential of digital actuality in serving to sufferers keep motivated in an intense therapy routine.


“We hope with this new kind of know-how that sufferers will probably be extra desirous about therapy as a result of it’s completely different,” mentioned Dr. Mahesh Ramachandran, the hospital’s chief medical officer and stroke rehabilitation specialist. “It is extra thrilling and enjoyable, relatively than doing a monotonous form of train routine.”

Elmhurst resident David Gervin, proper, is supplied with a head-mounted show. Occupational therapist Nicolas Giovanniti makes certain that the machine 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 instructed she put on VR gear, Schmidt was keen to offer him a shot.

“Something that helps you get again to the place you had 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 steadiness,” 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 comply with instructions.”

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

First, they assess how properly sufferers can tolerate the digital actuality machine. Therapists verify for indicators of movement illness, dizziness, or nausea. The examine can be restricted to as much as 20 sufferers with higher physique weak spot attributable to stroke.

Medical doctors hope to publish their findings, however when and the place will rely upon the examine’s completion and what the outcomes are.

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

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

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

Unimaginable Options

Penumbra isn’t a tech firm, however venturing right into a digital actuality remedy was the following logical step.

The healthcare firm is greatest identified for making catheters used to take away a blood clot and restore blood circulation 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 affords some nice options,” mentioned Geeta Barry, government vp 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 method of participating their sufferers.”

Therapists regularly improve the extent of issue 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 content that you just’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. Disguise 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 “could apply rules related to neuroplasticity,” that’s, the mind’s skill 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 surroundings.
– 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 steadiness has improved,” Giovannitti mentioned. “It is actually secure 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 nearly a 12 months in the past, it was tough to finish a easy digital job.

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

However she is wanting ahead to her VR periods.

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