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Brain Injury Centre Unveils Virtual Reality System

A Salford brain injury charity has become the first in England to install a world-renowned virtual reality system to treat those recovering from acquired brain injury.

The Brain and Spinal Injury Centre (BASIC) has spent the last two years fundraising to achieve the £500,000 required to purchase the cutting edge CAREN system.

The unique, room sized system puts patients in a giant interactive game, that has the ability to immerse the patient in a variety of virtual environments with games or exercises programmed to help with specific problems.

CAREN, which stands for Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment, is a versatile, multi sensory virtual reality system for treatment and rehabilitation of a variety of neurological and orthopaedic problems such as walking, back pain, posture, balance, spinal stability and motor control integration.

The machine is so big it had to be shipped from Amsterdam and a five-foot deep hole dug into the ground of the Salford based charity to house the apparatus.

Wendy Edge, CEO at BASIC, said:

We carried out extensive research on the benefits to patients in using this system and the evidence speaks for itself. Having seen it in action by the military in the USA, we’re confident it could change the future of physical therapy. Recovery can take a number of years and longer term aftercare available to acquired brain injury sufferers can be poor once people are discharged from NHS treatment, so this is a major leap forward.

This system helps re-educate the nerves and muscles, in a controlled environment. The Human Body Model software makes it possible to visualise muscle forces generated in the human body while the patient is moving.

The ground-breaking system is used across the world in universities for medical research and by the military, but has never before been available in a community setting in the UK. The system has huge potential in treating patients and provides vast amounts of clinical data to enable the most effective treatment plan to be put in place. We’re hugely excited to be able to bring this to people across the UK.

The platform of the CAREN machine has six-degree movement and can change its slope and speed to match its environment or the patient’s capabilities.

Patients can walk down a path, navigate a boat slalom, walk through a wood and other everyday situations in a safe environment. It provides exposure to environments that are physically challenging without putting patients in danger.

Research has shown that a virtual reality can speed up recovery time, help recover arm and hand movements, improve reaction times and reduce the impact of brain damage.
This equipment can play vital role in the rehabilitation of those that can walk as well as those that can’t and especially those that need brain rehabilitation.

Dr Andy Kerr, MCSP, Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence in Rehabilitation an Research, Strathclyde University, said:

We have had fantastic results in our research with stroke patients using the CAREN at Strathclyde University. All of the participants improved their walking abilities, with some who couldn’t walk at the beginning being able to jog up and down hills. The fact that there is a safety harness enables people to push themselves and try things they wouldn’t normally do.

The unique combination of visualisation and treadmill works on both physical and cognitive recovery. We have never found a treadmill alone very effective with stroke patients but the CAREN provides massive variability of ‘optical flow’ which is what happens when we walk in the outside world in more challenging environments

There are more than a quarter of a million new cases of brain injury in the UK every year as a result of stroke or head trauma.

It enables me to be much more creative, flexible and responsive with a patient. The CAREN is invaluable in my work” Barri Schnall Gait Analysis Specialist, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington DC.

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