A recent study published in eClinicalMedicine examines the effectiveness and safety of virtual reality (VR) as a neurorehabilitation modality for individuals with cerebral stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and there is a need for more engaging and patient-centered interventions to enhance functional recovery.
VR allows patients to immerse themselves in virtual environments that resemble real-world events, providing real-time feedback through sensory channels. It can be non-immersive, semi-immersive, or fully immersive, depending on the level of a user’s perceived presence and interaction with the virtual environment.
Multiple systematic reviews have previously explored the use of VR for upper limb function and activity in stroke survivors, but this study takes a comprehensive overview of existing reviews, following the Cochrane guidelines, to provide a broader understanding of the evidence.
The researchers searched 11 databases, including SCOPUS and grey literature, and identified systematic reviews published in English that focused on adult stroke patients undergoing VR intervention with or without conventional therapy. The primary outcome measured was upper limb function and activity, while secondary outcomes included measures of gait, activities of daily living, cognitive function, and quality of life.
The results of this overview, which included 58 systematic reviews and 345 primary studies on VR intervention for stroke, revealed that VR, with or without conventional therapy, was superior to conventional therapy in improving upper limb function and activity. However, there was no significant effect on arm activity, as assessed by specific tests.
Some reviews also reported equal effects of VR and conventional therapy on study groups. Additionally, VR showed potential benefits for mobility, balance, and activities of daily living.
The study concludes that clinicians should consider incorporating VR into post-stroke rehabilitation interventions to enhance motor recovery. Tailored exercises with visual, auditory, and tactile feedback could be introduced to help patients improve their performance and personal capacity. Clinicians should also consider individual characteristics, such as stress levels and gender, when determining the appropriate type of VR technology and intervention dose for each patient.
It should be noted that the findings of this study must be interpreted with caution due to the poor methodological quality of some of the included reviews.