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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Stroke research uses cyber space
Image of the brain
Strokes are caused by bleeds or clots in the brain
A team of four University of Ulster researchers have won an award for their hi-tech work in helping people with strokes regain use of their limbs.

They have developed techniques in which stroke victims are immersed in a virtual reality world where they can practice arm and hand movements.

It is aimed at providing a stimulating environment to re-learn everyday tasks such as eating, drinking and driving.

A pilot study, said to be unique in the UK and Ireland, is already under way.

The four who received the Innovations in Stroke Care award are: Jacqueline Crosbie, Professor Suzanne McDonough and Dr Sheila Lennon from the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Institute at Jordanstown along with Dr Michael McNeill from the School of Computing and Information Engineering, at Coleraine.

Ms Crosbie said stroke was the most common cause of disability in adults and can lead to permanent changes in a person's life style.

"Different virtual worlds provide rich environments to relieve the boredom of practising what can often be repetitive and frustrating tasks," she said.

Daily chores

"We are hopeful that this new form of rehabilitation therapy will considerably improve the quality of life for people with stroke."

She said it was estimated that out of the 80% of people who survive a stroke, between 30-66% will not regain use of their affected arm.

"This may be explained by the fact that current rehabilitation therapy largely concentrates on getting the patient mobile so that they can return home as soon as possible.

"Considerably less time is spent on encouraging arm and hand activities."

The new technology will involve the patient wearing a head-mounted display which provides a sense of immersion into a virtual world.

The world could be a representation of an environment with which the patient is familiar, such as a kitchen, living room or supermarket, enabling the practice of movements needed to carry out daily chores such as making a cup of tea.

The patient will also wear a flexible glove connected to position and orientation sensors and a number of additional sensors will be attached to the patient's shoulder.

Audio feedback in the form of a virtual physiotherapist is also possible.

Although initially the equipment will be tested out under the supervision of researchers, once trained, the researchers say it may be possible for some patients to practice upper limb movements independently.

The research has been funded by Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association.


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