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VR in the Medical World: Rehabilitation

by Beth Divine 23 Oct 2018

Virtual reality is one of those media that is thought of as something fun, an amusement form – entertainment not something important or serious or really useful. But this is to dismiss virtual reality too easily. The technology is finding its way into the mainstream, and the medical world is finding more and more ways to use it with treatments that would otherwise cost too much or be too impractical.

Seventeen-year-old Shannon Mackey was unfortunate to suffer a double whammy, medically speaking. She had been suffering from a brain tumour and was about to have her last round of treatment when she woke up one night, needing to use the toilet – a perfectly normal happenstance for most of us. Unlike most of us, when she tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed, her body did not respond. She had suffered a stroke and lost the use of her whole left side.

Once the initial crisis was over, Shannon was sent to BASIC (Brain and Spinal Injury Centre), a rehabilitation centre aimed at getting patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, strokes, or spinal injuries. During her time at BASIC, Shannon used virtual reality to project exercises and lengthy walks over the reality of a walking frame and harness. The purpose of the exercises are to rebuild weakened muscles and restore coordination. The headset helped to show her when she began to lean to one side or the other, especially when she began to tire.

While the physical exercises are probably the same as they would be without the virtual reality, there is no doubt that having an interesting scenario in which to work out will make the lengthy and often painful exercise sessions much more engaging – and an engaged patient will perform the exercises better, and for longer, all of which will make their recovery that little bit more comprehensive.

Shannon, two years after her stroke, is now 19 and doing very well, walking and talking almost as well as she did before her illness, with more improvements still expected to come in time. She has, unlike two years ago, a future and a life ahead of her.