Nov. 16, 2010 Repeated exercise, even in a virtual environment, helped stroke patients improve arm and hand function, according to a new human study of an interactive video game-based therapy.
The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego.
"We are using an innovative approach to rehabilitation," said study author Sergei V. Adamovich, PhD, of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "In virtual environments, individuals with arm and hand impairment practiced tasks such as reaching and touching virtual objects. They took a cup from a shelf and put it on a table, hammered a nail, and even played a virtual piano."
Even years after a stroke occurs, people with disabled limbs still sometimes show improvement with therapy. Though recent studies have shown recovery is possible, researchers aim to further increase the amount of improvement in the speed and fluidity of motor control. In this study, 24 participants who had a stroke at least six months prior to therapy practiced with the video game for about 22 hours over a two-week period. With the aid of a robotic arm, individuals attempted increasingly difficult tasks. Adamovich and his colleagues observed that the volunteers moved their hands faster over the course of the tests.
The researchers also examined whether therapy changed the participants' brains to improve motor functions. In ongoing trials, the authors use transcranial magnetic stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging to map connections in the volunteers' brains as they undergo rehabilitation.
"Our preliminary data suggest that, indeed, robot-assisted training in virtual reality may be beneficial for functional recovery after chronic stroke," Adamovich said. "Furthermore, our data imply that this recovery may be particularly due to increased functional connections between different brain regions."
Research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
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