Virtual reality helps spinal cord patients gain confidence

Published: March 24, 2006  |  Source: 49abcnews.com
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vrSpinal injury patient Bob Jones may be paralyzed and in a wheelchair, but he won’t sit still for long. He uses virtual reality technology to help him with his injury.

“This gives you an idea of what you’re gonna’ be running into on the outside of the building,” Jones said.

It’s Rehabilitation that looks more like a video game.

“It’s fun, but a little scary,” Jones said.

“For somebody that’s very fearful and very unfamiliar with the power chair, I think that it really makes them see that it’s not a dangerous piece of equipment, that it can really help them move around,” said Dina Mastrogiovanni.

Patients with brain or spinal cord injuries sit in a power chair mounted on a moving treadmill. They navigate computer-generated city sidewalks using a joystick.

“Other people have to drive with their breath or with the movement of their head,” Mastrogiovanni said. “So to have them try it on the treadmill is putting them in a safe place to give it a shot.”

Therapists can evaluate the patients’ strengths and limitations, then decide how to improve on them.

“That’s the big premise of rehab is to look at what a person has left intact and then build off of that, so that they can function as independently as possible,” said Mary Ann Palermo.

Jones says the virtual reality program is a real confidence builder, even though being in the driver’s seat takes some getting used to.

“It has a lot of obstacles, so that makes it more challenging,” Jones said.

But, practice makes perfect, especially when independence is just around the corner.

Therapists say virtual reality can have other applications by changing the Environment on the screen, for example, a kitchen where patients can practice working around hot stoves and sharp appliances without the risk of injury.

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