2018-05-09 / Columns

Virtual Reality is therapy for the brain and body

COMPUSCHMOOZE
STEVE LUBETKIN

Too often, the popular focus on technology is obsessed with social media like the latest Twitter storm, Facebook rant, or Instagram “meltdown” over some new community outrage. While we’re glued to our screens clicking refresh to see the next angry comment, technologies that we think of mainly for game-playing and recreation are finding their way into truly useful applications.

Two of these technologies are virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). A technology company spun off from Rutgers University is adapting VR and AR games to help victims of neurological injuries.

Stroke victims, dementia sufferers, and patients who have sustained traumatic brain injuries can now incorporate virtual reality games into their rehabilitation therapy, thanks to technology developed by Bright Cloud International Corp. (http://brightcloudint.com/).

BCI’s proprietary BrightBrainer Rehabilitation System is a self-contained and mobile rehabilitation medical device with a suite of custom virtual reality therapeutic games. The games target various motor skills, including motor control, speed of movement, endurance, hand-eye coordination, and task sequencing. They also target cognitive abilities such as attention, short-term visual and auditory memory, working memory, reading comprehension, and dual tasking. The system combines physical exercises for upper body motor skills and cognitive training.

A scientific team of researchers, engineers, physicians, therapists, and game developers created the games, which adapt to individual patients. In addition to improving motor and cognitive skills, BrightBrainer games have been found to benefit a patient’s emotional state, leading to an increased quality of life.

The BrightBrainer Rehabilitation System is useful in outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities and medical adult day programs. You can see videos demonstrating the system at www.brightbrainer.com.

“We know that the brain can rewire itself to bypass non-working neurons, so our technology helps patients build that bypass to regain use of their bodies,” BCI founder and president Grigore (Greg) Burdea, PhD, said in a recent press release.

With a background in robotics and virtual rehabilitation, the Romanianborn Burdea has been a professor at Rutgers University School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering for more than 30 years.

Burdea’s work has been recognized both internationally and state-wide. He received the 2017 Virtual Reality Career Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his lifetime contribution to virtual and/or augmented reality.

Bright Cloud now works out of the New Jersey Econ omic Development Authority’s Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies. CCIT, located in North Brunswick, is a life sciences incubator, a place where startup companies focusing on developing technology-based products for healthcare and pharmaceutical uses can get office and lab space, executive mentoring, networking opportunities, and introductions to early-stage investors.

And Bright Cloud is not the only life sciences tech firm tapping into this need for treatment tools for brain injuries. Neurotechnology company MindMaze (mindmaze.com) is marketing MindMotion Pro as an FDA-approved 3D virtual environment therapy for stroke patients and others.

At the Legacy Oregon Burn Center in Portland, doctors are using VR tools to help patients with pain. Studies indicate that the VR therapy helped patients cope with pain with less use of opioid painkillers (http://bit.ly/VRPain).

What other health-based applications of virtual or augmented reality have you heard about? Email me at steve@compuschmooze.com, and follow @PodcastSteve on Twitter. 

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