The use of virtual reality (VR) as a form of neurorehabilitation has shown effectiveness and safety in individuals who have experienced a stroke, according to a recent study published in eClinicalMedicine. Stroke survivors often face challenges such as upper limb impairment, decreased ability to self-care, and social inactivity, which can negatively impact their quality of life. With the global burden of strokes expected to increase in the coming years, there is a need for more engaging and interactive rehabilitation modalities to enhance functional recovery.
Virtual reality allows patients to immerse themselves in environments similar to real-world events and objects. It provides real-time feedback through sensory channels and can be non-, semi-, or fully immersive. Non-immersive VR involves interacting with a computer-generated avatar, while immersive VR utilizes concave surface projection, head-mounted displays, or video capture. Semi-immersive VR glasses enable users to navigate through a visual stimulus.
The current study aimed to provide an overview of systematic reviews on the effectiveness and safety of VR rehabilitation after stroke. Researchers analyzed 42 meta-analyses from 58 systematic reviews, which included 345 primary studies on VR intervention for stroke. The findings indicated that VR, with or without conventional therapy, was superior to conventional therapy alone in improving upper limb function and activity. However, VR did not have a significant impact on arm activity.
Some reviews also reported equal effects between VR and conventional therapy for certain outcomes. VR could be particularly useful for patients who need to perform cognitive tasks while refining their movement quality. In addition, VR may have a positive effect on mobility, balance, and activities of daily living. The study also highlighted the importance of minimizing the risk of falling during balance training when using VR.
The researchers concluded that clinicians should consider incorporating VR into post-stroke rehabilitation interventions to enhance motor recovery. Tailored exercises with visual, auditory, and tactile feedback should be introduced based on each patient’s training aims. Clinicians should also be aware of individual differences, such as higher stress levels in females, which may affect their experience with VR. However, the study notes that caution should be exercised in interpreting the findings due to the poor methodological quality of some of the included reviews.
Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the potential of VR as a safe and effective tool in stroke rehabilitation. More research is needed to further investigate its benefits and optimal implementation strategies.
Sources: eClinicalMedicine, World Health Organization