The Red Cross in Lugo, Spain had already been using VirtualRehab, Virtualware’s CE certified rehabilitation gaming platform, experiencing first-hand how new technologies could help improve rehabilitation outcomes for many of their patients suffering from some sort of neurological condition. They proposed to Virtualware the idea of developing a digital format for assisting in the rehabilitation of their patients with brain damage who were undergoing treatment for homonymous hemianopsia. Homonymous hemianopsia is a condition in which a person sees only one side―right or left―of the visual world of each eye. It occurs often in stroke and traumatic brain injuries due to the way vision is represented in the brain.
The development of the project was based on a close collaboration between Virtualware and an experienced team of clinicians and IT engineers from the Red Cross clinic. Based on the Red Cross’ briefing, Virtualware developed an immersive Virtual Reality driving application that uses the Oculus Rift CV1 VR headset and a joystick or gaming steering wheel.
The virtual rehabilitation app incorporates 6 different 3D environments the patient will ‘drive’ through. Each one can be configured using a simple therapy editor, allowing the treatment to be tailored to each patient’s requirements. Once the environment is chosen, the therapist can program the objects that will appear along the border of the intact and damaged visual field. In some cases, these stimuli will remain along the sides of the street, while in other cases they may move into the road (like a child crossing the streets suddenly) which requires the patient to either brake or swerve to avoid the object.
This therapy technique stimulates the patient through the use of visual cues promoting an organized visual search with the healthy eye, to assist them in learning oculomotor compensation. Once the session is completed, the data is saved for the therapist to analyse and used to measure the patient’s progress.
This collaborative project has proven to be a fruitful one from the Red Cross’ point of view. Already having developed various projects using Virtual Reality in the United Kingdom to help assess mental health problems, David Fried, Director of International Business in Virtualware explains how this application for the Red Cross serves to show how VR technologies can also be used as a means for clinicians to improve how the rehabilitate their patients.
This pioneering work is expected to make an important impact in the treatment of hemianopsia at the clinic. A clinical trial of the application is slated to begin in the next few months with 20 patients who suffer from Hemianopsia.