Despite being in the early stages of development, virtual reality technology has a lot of potential. Research by EPFL shows virtual reality can help amputees adjust to their prosthetic limbs a lot easier. There is still additional research required to ensure this is a viable mainstream approach, but the initial tests appear to be rather promising.
VR and Prosthetic Limbs
There are many different factors which influence the life of an amputee. One of the most common “problems” is the phantom limb phenomenon. The brain thinks one’s lost limb is still present and tries to send nerve signals to that limb. However, as the limb has been removed – either forcefully or on purpose – it is very difficult for amputees to deal with the new situation.
This also poses problems when a prosthetic limb is introduced to the amputee’s body. There is a cognitive disconnect between the phantom limb and the new “solution”. To accommodate this transition, the EPFL is now exploring virtual reality programs to help amputees get used to their new limb as quickly as possible. Although still in the very early stages of development, the initial response appears to be rather positive and promising.
EPFL’s Giulio Rognini explains the process as follows:
“The brain regularly uses its senses to evaluate what belongs to the body and what is external to the body, We showed exactly how vision and touch can be combined to trick the amputee’s brain into feeling what it sees, inducing embodiment of the prosthetic hand with an additional effect that the phantom limb grows into the prosthetic one.”
This virtual reality venture also allows amputees to learn how to control prosthetic limbs with their mind. By visualizing this experience as it happens, a lot of frustration can be removed from the equation. Virtual reality can help in visualizing progress as it’s being made in real-time. More importantly, this VR setup required for this process is portable can easily be taken to patients residing at home if needed.
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