Rutgers develops virtual reality treatment for hand impairment in chronic stroke patients

January 24, 2002

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Rutgers researchers have filed a patent application for a PC-based virtual reality system that works alone to provide stroke patients effective, intensive nontedious hand-impairment therapy even years after a stroke has occurred.

"Virtual Reality-based Post-Stroke Rehabilitation" is discussed in a paper presented Jan. 24 at the 10th annual Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference, by Grigore C. Burdea, director of the Human-Machine Interface Laboratory at Rutgers' Center for Advanced Information Processing.

The new system uses two types of sensor-equipped gloves along with programs running on a PC to provide both therapy and a way for the therapist to chart progress. In use, the patient's gloved hands are linked to virtual hands on the PC monitor - the patient's actual hand movements are mimicked on-screen. By interacting and playing with various onscreen graphics - including fluttering butterflies, piano keyboards and mechanical hands - the patient performs intensive rehab exercises without drudgery. The PC-based design also opens the door for "tele-rehabilitation" - the opportunity for therapists to work with patients from remote locations.

The Rutgers researchers tested four patients with hand impairment suffered in strokes from one to four years prior to the study. After three weeks of the new therapy, the researchers found up to a 140 percent improvement in range of motion for the thumb and up to a 118 percent improvement in the ability to move one finger at a time. There were also significant improvements in such areas as finger speed and finger strength.

"We found that virtual reality alone could be used to improve the condition of chronic stroke patients, without the use of traditional rehab exercises," said Burdea. "It provides a way for patients to completely immerse themselves in rehab, and actually look forward to treatment. As a consequence, the results are fast and dramatic."
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Burdea is well-known for leading the team that developed the Rutgers Master, a virtual reality rehabilitation device for hand injuries. His team on the new hand therapy system includes Rares Boian, Anand Sharma, C. Han, Sergei Adamovich and Howard Poizner of Rutgers, along with Alma Merians from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and Michael Recce and Marilyn Tremaine of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Research was funded in part by the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology and by Rutgers Special Research Opportunity Allocation grants.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Professor Grigore Burdea can be contacted by phone at (732) 445-5309 or by e-mail burdea@vr.rutgers.edu.

Rutgers University

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