Virtual Reality of a Stroke

Active Wii video games are the latest craze sweeping the medical industry. As surprising as it may sound, playing in “virtual reality” has been proven to help stroke patients learn how to walk again. About 700,000 people every year experience a new or recurrent stroke, which can impair one side of the body as well as balance and coordination.

At this year’s American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, a first-of-its-kind study found that 11 stroke victims with weakness in their arms could reach out and grab objects more easily and more quickly after two weeks of playing the active video games.

But, not all videos are created equal. “Most physicians admit that while these ‘virtual’ findings are encouraging, there are bigger issues concerning Americans and strokes; specifically knowledge about symptoms and seeking help quickly,” said Jeremiah Lanford, M.D., stroke director at Scott & White Healthcare – Round Rock. “The urgency and need for rapid evaluation of a stroke is critical,” said Lanford.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month and stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. One of the reasons stroke is the third leading cause of death is because one in three Americans can’t name even one symptom of stroke.* (National Stroke Association survey) Additionally, “what matters most when it comes to stroke treatment is location because many Americans live far from primary stroke centers putting them in possible danger if care can’t be administered quickly,” said Dr. Lanford.

Recognizing, recovering from stroke

A stroke occurs when arteries in the brain become blocked or rupture, causing brain tissue to die. According to Dr. Lanford, symptoms can include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, or double vision.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
  • Drowsiness, nausea, or vomiting.

However, a FAST way to think about stroke is:

Face (have the person smile, does one side droop?)

Arm (ask the person to raise their arms, does one side drift down?)

Speech (ask the person to repeat a sentence, does it sound normal?)

Time (call 9-11 and activate EMS, “Time is Brain”)

“Once symptoms begin, time is of the essence with regards to damage. With each passing minute, more brain cells die,” said Dr. Lanford. “About 80% of strokes are ischemic where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. If a patient reaches the hospital within three hours of symptom onset drugs can dissolve blood clots thereby reducing damage and disability.”

Another form of stroke is transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked temporarily. TIAs are a serious warning sign of an impending stroke and are temporary stroke-like symptoms without any permanent injury. “TIA’s are just as serious as strokes. There is a high risk for stroke within the next few days after a TIA and emergent evaluation is needed to determine how to prevent a future stroke,” said Dr. Lanford.

Stroke leads to more long-term disabilities than any other disease. Problems can include paralysis, personality changes, trouble speaking and difficulties performing daily tasks.

As the only primary stroke center in Williamson County, TX, Scott & White Healthcare – Round Rock treats, on average, 14% (during 2009) of all stroke patients admitted to its hospital with tPA (clot buster medication), while the national average is less than 3%.

Traditional rehabilitation can include:

  • Physical therapy treats problems with movement, balance, and coordination.
  • Occupational therapy to practice with life activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, or cooking.
  • Speech Therapy to relearn language skills and overcome swallowing problems.
  • Orthotist provides special braces, splints, or footwear that help with movement.
  • Dieticians help provide a balanced diet during and after rehabilitation.

For more information, please visit www.strokeassociation.org

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Virtual Reality of a Stroke