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'Virtual reality hands' may help stroke survivors

November 25, 2013
by Richard R. Rogoski
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Thoughts are powerful. And for stroke survivors, their thoughts might be telling them how to recover the use of their arms and hands.

The results of a study presented at this year's American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Dallas, concluded that if stroke survivors can "will" a pair of virtual reality hands to do things, they are more likely to motivate themselves in therapy sessions where they are working to regain control of their real arms and hands.

The system, which researchers say can be made patient-specific, utilizes brain-computer interface technology and 3-D glasses to produce the illusion that the stroke survivor is seeing his own arms.

In a press release announcing the study's findings, Alexander Doud, M.S., the study's lead author said, "Using a brain-computer interface, we’ve created an environment where people who may be too physically impaired to move can practice mental imagery to help regain use of their arms and hands."

Doud further noted: "During rehabilitation, usually a therapist will move the patient's hand or arm in the desired direction while asking that patient to imagine they are making the movement. In this practice space, the patients can control photorealistic hands by thinking about using their own hands without actually moving at all."

By using their virtual reality hands, stroke survivors can practice a wide range of activities such as picking up a toothbrush or opening a jar, Doud said.

The initial study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. A much larger follow-up study is being planned.