Virtual reality technologies show potential as effective rehabilitation tools following neuro-trauma. In particular, the Elements system, involving customized surface computing and tangible interfaces, produces strong treatment effects for upper-limb and cognitive function following traumatic brain injury. The present study evaluated the efficacy of Elements as a virtual rehabilitation approach for stroke survivors.
Twenty-one adults (42-94 years old) with sub-acute stroke were randomized to four weeks of Elements virtual rehabilitation (three weekly 30-40 min sessions) combined with treatment as usual (conventional occupational and physiotherapy) or to treatment as usual alone. Upper-limb skill (Box and Blocks Test), cognition (Montreal Cognitive Assessment and selected CogState subtests), and everyday participation (Neurobehavioral Functioning Inventory) were examined before and after inpatient training, and one-month later.
Effect sizes for the experimental group (d = 1.05-2.51) were larger compared with controls (d = 0.11-0.86), with Elements training showing statistically greater improvements in motor function of the most affected hand (p = 0.008), and general intellectual status and executive function (p ≤ 0.001). Proportional recovery was two- to three-fold greater than control participants, with superior transfer to everyday motor, cognitive, and communication behaviors. All gains were maintained at follow-up.
A course of Elements virtual rehabilitation using goal-directed and exploratory upper-limb movement tasks facilitates both motor and cognitive recovery after stroke. The magnitude of training effects, maintenance of gains at follow-up, and generalization to daily activities provide compelling preliminary evidence of the power of virtual rehabilitation when applied in a targeted and principled manner.