• Healthy Communities

    Mount Pleasant becoming a virtual reality therapy destination


    January 17, 2013

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    Most people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) will experience a condition known as ataxia, which effects motor coordination.  Ataxia can affect a person’s gait, create difficulty in coordinating arm movements, reduce manual dexterity and cause problems with a person’s ability to track something that is moving.

    For people with ataxia, Mount Pleasant could become a place of hope for a better future.

    By using virtual reality therapy, Central Michigan University professor of physical therapy, Ksenia Ustinova hopes to restore coordination for people with a TBI.  Her current research is being supported in part by a $84,314 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

    Virtual reality therapy “provides practice in a realistic, safe and motivating environment.  Performance of real-world tasks in a regular therapeutic setting is limited by the client’s ability, frustration and lack of success, which can demotivate the patient from participating.  Game-based rehabilitation offers a variety of scenarios in which mistakes do not pose any risk to the participant,” says Ustinova.

    Recent advances in virtual reality technology have made developing custom games or minor modifications to computer hardware relatively easy according to Ustinova.  With the right software and interaction devices, precise measurement of patient progress is possible and the detection of small positive changes in motor behavior is easier.

    Research into the efficacy of the therapy is ongoing, but Ustinova notes the people involved in her study have mild to moderate cases of ataxia and most have shown an improvement in several key functions.

    “The BCBS of Michigan Foundation is dedicated to improving the health of all Michigan residents through the support of research and innovative community health programs,” says Ira Strumwasser, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of the BCBSM Foundation.  “We are delighted to make this grant to such a strong team of CMU faculty researchers who are committed to that same focus.”

    CMU is gaining experience in conducting research into the effectiveness of using virtual reality game-based therapy, having received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense of $391,000 to help soldiers rehabilitate from traumatic brain injuries.

    An unintended benefit of the research is in the hands-on experience it is giving CMU students.

    “We have a history of strong performance in physical therapy professional education.  The virtual reality therapy is conducted by physical therapy students under the supervision of principle investigators on the grant.  In this regard, these students have an opportunity to provide treatment to patients with a brain injury, and even more importantly, to learn about some of the alternative therapy techniques,” notes Ustinova.

    Photo credit: Chris J Bowley

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