Does use of a virtual environment change reaching while standing in patients with traumatic brain injury?

Ksenia Ivanovna Ustinova, Amanda Yvonne Schafer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Background: Although numerous virtual reality applications have been developed for sensorimotor retraining in neurologically impaired individuals, it is unclear whether the virtual environment (VE) changes motor performance, especially in patients with brain injuries. To address this question, the movement characteristics of forward arm reaches during standing were compared in physical and virtual environments, presented at different viewing angles. Methods. Fifteen patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and 15 sex- and age-matched healthy individuals performed virtual reaches in a computer-generated courtyard with a flower-topped hedge. The hedge was projected on a flat screen and viewed in 3D format in 1 of 3 angles: 10° above horizon (resembling a real-world viewing angle), 50° above horizon, or 90° above horizon (directly overhead). Participants were instructed to reach with their dominant hand avatar and to touch the farthest flower possible without losing their balance or stepping. Virtual reaches were compared with reaches-to-point to a target in an equivalent physical environment. A set of kinematic parameters was used. Results: Reaches by patients with TBI were characterized by shorter distances, lower peak velocities, and smaller postural displacements than reaches by control individuals. All participants reached ∼9% farther in the VE presented at a 50° angle than they did in the physical environment. Arm displacement in the more natural 10° angle VE was reduced by the same 9-10% compared to physical reaches. Virtual reaches had smaller velocity peaks and took longer than physical reaches. Conclusion: The results suggest that visual perception in the VE differs from real-world perception and the performance of functional tasks (e.g., reaching while standing) can be changed in TBI patients, depending on the viewing angle. Accordingly, the viewing angle is a critical parameter that should be adjusted carefully to achieve maximal therapeutic effect during practice in the VE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
StatePublished - Jul 16 2013


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