Immersive VR could help with rehab therapies

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Immersive virtual reality (VR) technology could help treat communication disorders, according to a study by The University of Queensland.

“Communication disorders can result in significant barriers to everyday life activities, and commonly require long-term rehabilitation,” said Dr Atiyeh Vaezipour, from the RECOVER Injury Research Centre — a joint initiative of the Queensland Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC) and The University of Queensland.

“Traditionally, speech pathologists deliver therapy in places such as hospitals and health centres, where there are limited opportunities for real-life interaction.

“VR applications could simulate social communication situations that are difficult to create within the clinic in realistic, personally relevant and safe environments.

Dr Vaezipour said the results provided a foundation to inform the design, development and implementation of a VR system to be used in the rehabilitation of people with acquired communication disorders.

Dr Vaezipour interviewed and surveyed speech pathologists following their use of an immersive VR kitchen environment.

“Participants in this study were positive about the usefulness of VR and its potential applications to the management of communication disorders within speech language pathology,” she said.

“Speech pathologists considered VR to be a viable option for observation of communication performance in more life-like environments, bridging the gap between communication in the clinic and communication in external environments where distractions are present, such as background noise or visual complexity.

Dr Vaezipour said a human-centred design process was critical in developing VR tools for use in clinical practice.

“Immersive VR applications will require customisation and adaptation capabilities that enable tailoring to the specific target goals, and physical, cognitive and communication needs of the client,” she said.

“Incorporating human factors from the early stages of design and development could enable the successful adoption of novel technologies in rehabilitation.

“More evidence-based research to support the use of immersive VR in the management of adult neurogenic communication disorders is critical to enhance uptake and sustained use by speech pathologists.”

Image credit: The University of Queensland

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