Prof Michelle Byrnes, Head of Clinical Psychology Research at the Perron Institute, and Cl/Professor David Blacker, Medical Director, are involved in a project with Murdoch University to develop a Virtual Reality (VR) program called “Neuromender” that assists with stroke rehabilitation.

Project leader Dr Mohd Fairuz Shiratuddin (Senior Lecturer at the School of Engineering & Information Technology), who with the help of IT students created the program, was motivated by his mother who had a stroke.

The Neuromender software captures detailed real-time data of the upper body as survivors fly a ‘wing-man’ through a virtual world, with the task difficulty levels adjusted by the system automatically.

Currently there are no established evidence-based VR rehabilitation programs with detailed, high resolution monitoring for the neurorehabilitation of the upper limb of stroke survivors within Australia.

Stroke is the number one cause of long-term disability in adults in Australia and worldwide. Hand and arm weakness is a common problem following stroke that substantially impacts on the quality of life of stroke survivors. The low cost computer based system addresses concepts of neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, and neurorehabilitation, including repetition, adaptation, self-directedness and task-orientated training of the paretic arm. It only needs a computer or laptop and the advantage is the potential for the therapy to be home-based.

Craig Watts, who attends the the Perron Institute clinics and is involved in the study, was hit by a stroke in 2011. He “couldn’t work, walk, communication was a problem” and he lost movement in the left hand side of his body. Craig is fighting to regain his independence. With a computer and 3D sensor he is able to do therapy in his own home, hoping to continue to regain more movement and his freedom.

A pilot trial of the VR rehabilitation program is hoped to begin in summer 2016.

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