Areas of Specialization in ResearchRehabilitation
a. Physical Rehabilitation
VRMC is interested in improving physical functioning in both military and civilian populations. In a contract with Walter Reed Hospital, we are using off-the-shelf video games for the physical rehabilitation of veterans. The elderly civilian population is another important target population for treatment. As baby boomers continue to age, the number of age-related diseases and the need
for treatment of these diseases will inevitably rise. We are currently developing a mixed reality rehabilitation system for improving upper extremity movement in stroke-debilitated patients. In mixed reality, virtual enhancements and overlays are delivered in a unique see-through head mounted display such that these virtual contexts enhance normal reality without losing the benefits of a physical setting (touch, smell, hearing, taste). With the Iraq war producing more amputees than in any other war, we are looking into future applications of mixed reality in the direction of prosthetic rehabilitation.
b. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
VRMC has been invited to pursue funding for a study that will test the efficacy of a system providing doctors and field commanders with tools to restore the cognitive functioning of victims of wartime TBI. In many cases, the damaged brain is left to reprogram by itself, often with very serious counterproductive consequences. Sustained by new findings in neural science and functional brain imaging, VRMC is developing ways to use virtual reality (VR) to direct and encourage the natural neural reprogramming processes to promote more rapid and effective cognitive rehabilitation in victims of TBI. VR provides a safe, controlled environment for the kind of repetitive practice that is crucial in stimulating neuroplasticity. It offers immediate, real-time feedback about performance, and because of its interactive nature, can increase motivation by making rehabilitation more enjoyable.