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Hot Topics: Virtual Reality Games Can Help Stroke Recovery

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Neurology, Physical Therapy

Virtual Reality Training for Upper Extremity in Subacute Stroke (VIRTUES): A multicenter RCT

Brunner, I., Skouen, J. S., Hofstad, H., Aßmus, J., Becker, F., Sanders, A., . . . Verheyden, G. (2017). Virtual reality training for upper extremity in subacute stroke (VIRTUES). Neurology, doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000004744

Objective: To compare the effectiveness of upper extremity virtual reality rehabilitation training
(VR) to time-matched conventional training (CT) in the subacute phase after stroke.

Methods: In this randomized, controlled, single-blind phase III multicenter trial, 120 participants
with upper extremity motor impairment within 12 weeks after stroke were consecutively included
at 5 rehabilitation institutions. Participants were randomized to either VR or CT as an adjunct to
standard rehabilitation and stratified according to mild to moderate or severe hand paresis,
defined as $20 degrees wrist and 10 degrees finger extension or less, respectively. The training
comprised a minimum of sixteen 60-minute sessions over 4 weeks. The primary outcome measure
was the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT); secondary outcome measures were the Box and
Blocks Test and Functional Independence Measure. Patients were assessed at baseline, after
intervention, and at the 3-month follow-up.

Results: Mean time from stroke onset for the VR group was 35 (SD 21) days and for the CT group
was 34 (SD 19) days. There were no between-group differences for any of the outcome measures.
Improvement of upper extremity motor function assessed with ARAT was similar at the
postintervention (p 5 0.714) and follow-up (p 5 0.777) assessments. Patients in VR improved
12 (SD 11) points from baseline to the postintervention assessment and 17 (SD 13) points from
baseline to follow-up, while patients in CT improved 13 (SD 10) and 17 (SD 13) points, respectively.
Improvement was also similar for our subgroup analysis with mild to moderate and severe
upper extremity paresis.

Conclusions: Additional upper extremity VR training was not superior but equally as effective as
additional CT in the subacute phase after stroke. VR may constitute a motivating training alternative
as a supplement to standard rehabilitation.