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Virtual boost for stroke patients


27 August, 2008  

A new hospital rehabilitation programme has been developed, which “tricks” stroke victims into getting better.

The programme uses a specially-adapted treadmill with virtual reality screens that use moving images to trick the patient’s brain into thinking they are walking more slowly than they are, which in turn encourages them to walk faster and further.

University of Portsmouth PhD student Wendy Powell, who created the programme, said early results suggested that patients using the technique might experience less pain than traditional physiotherapy alone. Clinical trials are now taking place at McGill University in Canada.

Ms Powell, a former chiropractor, said: “The virtual system encourages patients to walk more quickly and for longer, almost without them realising it. We’re effectively fooling the brain and the body.

“The environment is stimulating and entertaining and there’s less fear of falling over. Our test subjects are usually surprised when I tell them they’ve improved by up to 20%.”

Dr Jane Williams, a consultant nurse in stroke care at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth, said the programme should work well on improving strength, endurance and stamina.

“Consistency and practice are key to making progress and this system has huge potential across a wide range of activities which can be tailored to meet individual rehabilitation needs,” she added.

Copyright PA Business 2008

University of Portsmouth