Virtual Environment for Assessement and Rehabilitation Laboratory
VR applications to restore functional mobility
Virtual reality (VR) is an intriguing medium to deliver physical rehabilitation due to its endless flexibility. Each clinical population presents a unique challenge to the rehabilitation team due to its specific structural or neurological decrements. A one-size fits all approach to rehabilitation is not optimal. Rather, a prescription of exercises designed to specifically target each patient's particular deficit is more in-line with the optimal "personalized medicine" recommendations to optimize clinical practice. VR offers the ability to present locomotor training in a challenging, yet obtainable way that can be tailored to each locomotor deficit.
While VR rehabilitation can enhance patient motivation due to the novelty of the training environment, we utilize VR as a medium to train the patient to regain the specific components of their gait pattern that have been altered due to an injury, aging or disease. For example, the timing between strides is altered following a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. We have created an avatar that is driven not by a computer program, but by the pre-recorded biomechanics of a healthy adult walking. When a patient comes into the laboratory, they are instrumented so they can see an avatar of themselves on the projection screen. Additionally, the "healthy" avatar is presented right next to the patient's avatar. The patient is told to make their avatar walk like the "healthy" avatar. This methodology provide the patient with visual feedback about self-motion (they can see a limp or hitch in their stride) and provides them with a model of how to move. Importantly, the model is driven by human movement, which incorporates the missing dynamic patterns which lead to the patient's locomotor dysfunction. Moreover, the viewing perspective can be moved or amplified if the patient is having difficultly synchronizing with the model avatar. By mimicking the gait patterns of a healthy adult, this type of training is specifically designed to restore functional mobility in a patient population.