Virtual reality glasses to walk again | Masters 2022

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  Virtual reality glasses to walk again

Stroll through a forest, dive into the sea or row a boat without leaving home. Virtual reality recreates a magical world that also contributes to improving the quality of life of patients undergoing muscle rehabilitation and sensory stimulation. Biomedical engineer Ana Rojo (Valencia, 26 years old) has dedicated herself to achieving this goal. She grew up away from consoles, but she has found in video games the key for patients to enter an immersive environment that helps them improve leg mobility. Through huge glasses, users can follow how a strange flying vehicle or a boat moves in this virtual reality platform depending on the speed of pedaling or rowing.

At 84 years old, Teresa de Miguel has been a pioneer in the Valle de la Oliva residence, in the Madrid town of Majadahonda, when it comes to experiencing the operation of a robotic walker and immersing herself in a novel therapy that improves musculature. De Miguel knows very well what it is like to recover after a fall. “When she doesn’t give me her neck, they don’t give me her legs. And when they fail me, I fall. I don’t know how many times it’s happened to me already”, she comments as she walks focused on the images that take place in the virtual reality glasses. Her determination is to overcome the obstacles that come her way. “It’s like she’s traveling,” she says. Nearby, a physical therapist operates the robotic walker by remote control.

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This ingenious contraption is the work of industrial engineer Vanina Costa, who works side by side with Rojo. Both assure that the innovation of the project lies in having designed rehabilitation specifically for a specific type of ailment and underline that a key factor in reducing mortality in patients with hip fractures is recovery time. And here, virtual reality works as a tool to make routines less monotonous and so that the patient needs fewer sessions to recover.

Rojo landed in the world of video games after working as a consultant. She combines her work as a virtual reality developer while she is doing her doctoral thesis in the Neuro-Rehabilitation group of the Cajal-CSIC Institute. She was presented with the opportunity to playfully combine physical rehabilitation with virtual reality, something she believed she was not doing. She first experimented with this technology in her last stage as a Biomedical Engineering student in Valencia. She is now part of the project SWalkera robotic walker powered by the Werium Solutions company and the Albertia nursing home group for hip fracture patients.

The device, which has the financial support of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, seeks to improve the quality of life of the geriatric population after the drastic loss of mobility as a result of a fall. The project has an investment of almost 600,000 euros and is scheduled to end in 2024. The first phase concluded a few months ago. Researchers have found that, despite their little familiarity with virtual reality, the elderly did not reject immersive technology. In the coming months, the latest part of the research will integrate the glasses with the motorized walker in about 100 patients from various residences in Albertia. Rojo maintains that video games “lead the application of virtual reality” and argues that, according to a Goldman Sachs report, this industry far outstrips other sectors such as the automotive industry or marketing. Mandamientos divertidos

The engineer Vanina Costa, on the left, with her partner from Werium Solutions Ana Rojo and the participant in Swalker, Teresa de los Reyes, at the Valle de la Oliva residence (Madrid).The engineer Vanina Costa, on the left, with her partner from Werium Solutions Ana Rojo and the participant in Swalker, Teresa de los Reyes, at the Valle de la Oliva residence (Madrid).EDP

Video games designed to move the limbs or the trunk add fun to these tough rehabilitation sessions and are known as exergames. The neuroscientist Pablo Barrecheguren maintains in his book Neurogamer (Paidós, 2021) that more and more studies are being published that demonstrate the cognitive potential of video games in such general skills as spatial memory or working memory. And it highlights that aging is one of the areas where more work is being done to create video games for therapeutic purposes in the future. Not only for mobility problems, but to combat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In this sector, the Costa Rican computer scientist based in Spain William Ramírez has specialized in the development of video games for the treatment of different ailments. Last year he joined Dynamics VR, a startup that distributes virtual reality video games designed by himself to various private clinics. His computer program has to meet three criteria: playable, fun, and compliant with each patient’s protocol. “Someone in a knee postoperative period is not the same as after a stroke or with cerebral palsy,” he points out. Ramírez points out that, depending on the player’s age, he can change a weapon that shoots aliens for a clay pigeon.

The Origen Kinesis clinic in Alcorcón, in Madrid, is one of those that uses this program. Héctor Mardomingo, physiotherapist and one of the founders, perceives great potential in virtual reality to make rehabilitation therapies less annoying. He hopes that this immersive technology is here to stay if technological giants like Facebook or Google join the investigations. And that patients like Teresa De Miguel, who have never touched a console, can thus cope with the pain that usually accompanies these recoveries.

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