Virtual reality (VR) has begun to see a variety of medical uses, from teaching surgeons about complex medical procedures, to helping patients get over phobias, or even helping to overcome a smoking addiction. Another new and innovative use of VR technology is being trialled at the Queen Victoria Hospital in the UK, VR to help with overcoming facial paralysis.
Facial paralysis can have a variety of causes, from stroke, to viral infections that cause Bell’s Palsy or neurological disease. When the muscles of the face weaken due to any of the these factors, the result can be damage to facial nerves which leads to paralysis of the face, which can affect the movement of mouth, eyes and other facial areas. Facial exercises are a vital part of the recovery process from facial paralysis, but often patients become too upset or traumatised to look in a mirror to confront their ‘changed’ face, making finishing the required exercises very difficult.
Dr. Charles Nduka, a consultant plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital is leading a trial into new treatment that involves patients wearing a VR headset and looking at a 3D avatar instead of a mirror as they perform the facial physiotherapy.
“Visual feedback is vital to successful exercising. Now, facial sensors incorporated into virtual reality goggles offer these patients an avatar – a three-dimensional computer representation of themselves – to look at instead. This will feed back to them in the same way as a mirror,” Dr Nduka told the Daily Mail, “Over the past ten years we’ve found that patients who perform exercises regularly have better outcomes.”
The custom VR headset used for the therapy is fitted with electrodes that provide data to trigger the expression of the avatar, so as the patient frowns or smiles and carries out the required exercises, the expression on the avatar changes, also, with many patients finding the avatar much easier than a mirror.
A larger trial of the technology involving 40 patients will begin next year.
VRFocus will bring you further news on innovations in VR medical technology as it becomes available.