#487: Virtual Therapy for Stroke Neurorehabilitation & Skill Relearning

Larry-HodgesLarry Hodges is a professor of human computer interaction at Clemson University, and he was one of the co-chairs of the very first IEEE VR academic in 1999. Hodges also co-founded a start-up named Recover, which originated from a successful research project into stroke recovery done by his student Austen Hayes. Inspired by the latest research into neurorehabilitation & skill relearning, they create a Kinect-based experience that gamifies the rehab exercises that 85% of people don’t do because they’re either too boring or painful. They’re able to inspire stroke recovery patients to do extended rehab practices while also progressively increasing the difficulty of the tasks over time as they slowly get better.

I had a chance to catch up with Larry at the IEEE VR academic conference in March 2016, where we talked about the history of the IEEE VR conference, his work with stroke rehabilitation and virtual therapy along with some of the results that they’re seeing, as well as some of his research on treating PTSD with virtual reality.


Stoke victims may lose the full range of movement within their limbs, but Hodge says that this is more of a brain problem than a physical problem. Recovr created a game called “Duck Duck Punch” that amplifies the movement of their arms, and so they’re able to feel like they’re accomplishing something with their limited movements. Rather than being frustrated in not being able to accomplish anything of significance, the amplification of movement within the game restores a feeling of robust agency within the patient and inspires them to do up to 600 repetitions per day. This is the level of extended practice that is required in order to relearn a skill, and to effectively rewire their brain through these many repetitions of progressively harder tasks. Hodge says that they’re able to see actual physical progress as soon after five sessions in some people who have been paralyzed for years. The supervising doctor can change the amplification multiplier as they start to regain more and more of their range of motion and motor control.

Medical applications and virtual reality therapy are one of the clear use cases where the benefits are clear, and the next big challenge for Recovr is convincing insurance companies to pay for this virtual treatment. Hodge says that there are some people who would pay just about anything to get access to this treatment, and that he’s received more feedback from the lives he’s changed than other domains of computer science. Perhaps eventually, for some treatments it’ll be cheaper and more efficient for insurance companies to pay for the installation of virtual reality systems within homes to help usher in the era of distributed telemedicine.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip