Virtual reality (VR) has afforded healthcare professionals powerful, adaptable tools capable of achieving therapeutic effects in patients with complex cognitive conditions.
Affecting about 7,000 people in their 20s to 40s in the UK each year, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially debilitating condition that is now one of the most common causes of disability in young adults.
While there isn’t a cure for the condition yet, it is possible to manage and treat symptoms as they come.
A conceptual framework put forth by scientists at the Kessler Foundation has detailed how virtual reality (VR) can be used for cognitive rehabilitation and exercise for patients with MS.
Noting the insufficiency of current rehabilitation methods for MS patients, the Kessler Foundation has advocated for exercise training (ET) and cognitive rehabilitation (CR) approaches (which are recognisably the most promising behavioural approaches for the mitigation of cognitive impairment) coupled with the use of VR-enabled tools.
According to the researchers, VR could reinforce the effects produced by cognitive rehabilitation and exercise training methods by magnifying a patient’s sensory processing ability—meaning that patients are better able to interpret information coming through their senses, thereby improving cognition. Additionally, VR systems can expedite therapeutic processes by enhancing “the transfer of cognitive improvements” in patients. As virtual environments can be modified to fit the training needs of individuals, healthcare professionals can provide MS patients with the ideal virtual setting for training exercises—catered to fit their unique conditions, commensurate with their ages, level of cognition, and relative comfort when faced with challenges.
“With VR, we can substantially increase engagement and the volume of sensory input,” theorises the Senior Research Scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at the Kessler Foundation, Brian Sandroff.
“And by promoting multisensory integration and processing, VR can augment the effects of the two most promising nonpharmacological treatments — cognitive rehabilitation and exercise.”
According to Dr Sandroff, the conceptual framework will form the basis of larger clinical trials to test the viability of interactive and immersive VR for treating cognitive dysfunction caused due to MS.
Could VR help individuals with cognitive impairment? Kessler Foundation’s concept asks a bold question—the answer to which may change many lives.
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