By Ian Bush


by KYW tech editor Ian Bush

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – After a stroke, the earlier the better when it comes to rehab: research has shown the sooner a patient is able to begin the recovery process, their chances improve for regaining lost function. But could virtual-reality rehabilitation promote better success in the real world?

At this past week’s World Congress for Neurorehabilitation at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, we’re zooming along a railway in a mine cart, leaning out one side and then the other to collect gold coins.

“She increases her speed by using this rowing motion,” says Dr. Karen Kerman, a pediatric neurologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, RI.

It’s a game with a serious purpose.

“We’re working on her balance and ability to control her trunk while engaging in upper limb activities,” Kerman explains. “This is important for a patient who is having problems with balance or control after a stroke or with Parkinson’s so they can correct their posture so as to avoid a fall or other injury.”

The patient’s motion is translated to the computer screen with a Kinect sensor — the same thing the Xbox uses. But MindMaze, the Swiss company where Kerman is medical director, aims to use the games on this system — called IOMI — to help patients transition from the hospital to a clinic and back home, using the virtual-reality rehab every step of the way.

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“The long-term goal is to is to allow the patient to be more independent over time,” Kerman says. “Our hope is that the technology will not only tap into the motor recovery component, but also to enhance attention, motivation, and engagement with the visual and auditory feedback that we provide.”

If you want to be a star basketball or football player, you watch the greats. If you want to use your arm like you did before a stroke, you watch… yourself.

“There is a learning process that takes place simply by visualizing it,” notes Kerman. “We’re trying to harness a little of that potential to improve function.”

That’s the idea behind MindMotionPro, the company’s augmented reality technology. The patient wears a vest with active markers — not unlike what actors don for CGI in the movies — sensors that are picked up by a camera and displayed on a screen.

“It allows her to visualize her movement on the screen as an avatar,” Kerman says. “She sees a visual representation of her limb carrying out these reaching and grasping movements.”

The game has a mirror mode in which a person with a paralyzed limb picks up and places a puck with the ‘good’ hand but sees the impaired limb doing so on screen — ‘tricking’ but also teaching the brain.

“We’re looking for motor learning that will assist in the rehabilitation process, as the visual imagery implies the patient is actually using their affected body part,” Kerman says. “We’re tapping into these neuroscience principles in hopes that we can improve the rehab potential and make early changes to enhance the functional recovery of the affected limb later.”

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MindMaze also is exploring the use of its tech for cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury patients.