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How immersive virtual reality helps rehabilitation for children and adolescents

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Immersive virtual reality in neurorehabilitation for children and adolescents is generating more attention amongst health professionals and, above all, in those rehabilitating motor and cognitive areas due to its extensive and accepted use.

In this article, you will find information on how immersive virtual reality could help rehabilitate children and adolescents through scientific evidence, expert recommendations, and case studies.

Expert’s opinion on digital therapy for cognitive and motor rehabilitation

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Currently, digital therapy through immersive virtual reality is becoming more common among centers, hospitals, and foundations, not only because it reduces costs but also because of the benefits that this technology brings.

According to Andrés Lloves, director of Neuro y Forma from Spain, "Through the technology provided by Kinesix VR, the functional recovery and reaching practice of patients is optimized. In addition, it provides postural control and scapular stability, while activating the areas corresponding to the voluntary movements in the cortex".

Besides the benefits provided by virtual reality for adults, this technology has also been well-accepted by professionals working with younger demographics.

David Duran, occupational therapist and coordinator of Teleton's technology unit, added that "Working motor skills in a ludic way in children and adolescents is a challenge, which is why rehabilitating through immersive virtual reality increases the motivation to perform therapeutic exercises and improves gross and fine motor skills, visual-motor coordination, balance, and stability".

Benefits of immersive virtual reality for children and adolescents

According to several studies that we will discuss in more detail below, immersive virtual reality is an effective tool in the rehabilitation of children and adolescents with a variety of medical conditions and disabilities.

In the following list, there are some examples of how immersive virtual reality can be beneficial in the rehabilitation process:

  1. Motivation and engagement: IVR can make rehabilitation sessions more engaging and exciting for children and adolescents. By immersing themselves in an interactive and engaging virtual environment, patients are more likely to actively engage in rehabilitation activities, which can accelerate their progress.

  2. Personalization and optimal challenge: IVR programs can be adapted to each patient's individual needs and abilities. This allows therapists to adjust the difficulty and type of activities according to the patient's progress, making rehabilitation more efficient and effective.

  3. Real-time feedback: IVR can provide immediate feedback on patient performance, allowing therapists and patients themselves to evaluate and improve their performance. This can increase patients' self-awareness and self-efficacy.

  4. Sensory stimulation: IVR can stimulate multiple senses, such as vision and hearing, which can be beneficial in the rehabilitation of patients with sensory disabilities. For example, it can help improve spatial perception in patients with visual impairments.

  5. Specific skills training: IVR can be used for fine and gross motor skill training, as well as to improve coordination and balance. Virtual games and simulations can be designed to target specific rehabilitation goals.

  6. Reduced stress and anxiety: For some patients, virtual environments can be less intimidating and stressful than traditional rehabilitation settings. This can be especially helpful in children and adolescents who may experience anxiety or fear during therapy.

  7. Data logging and tracking: IVR can collect detailed data on patient performance during rehabilitation sessions. This allows for more accurate tracking of progress over time and helps therapists make data-driven decisions.

  8. Accessibility: IVR can be used in a variety of locations, providing access to rehabilitation for children and adolescents who may have difficulties attending physical sessions at a rehabilitation center. This can be particularly valuable in remote areas or for patients with limited mobility.

Scientific evidence on virtual reality applied to children and adolescents for neurorehabilitation

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There are several scientific investigations on the effectiveness of virtual reality in children and adolescents for neurorehabilitation. Among the most widely conducted clinical research and studies, those that involved minors with cerebral palsy stand out.

In a 2018 study, Effectiveness of Virtual Reality in Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, where the purpose was to update the evidence on virtual reality by systematically reviewing the research literature, it was found that compared to other interventions, virtual reality appears to be an effective intervention for improving motor function in children with cerebral palsy.

Other studies, such as the one entitled Effectiveness of virtual reality rehabilitation for children and adolescents with cerebral palsy: an updated evidence-based systematic review, explain that additional literature was discovered that shows moderate evidence that virtual reality rehabilitation is a promising intervention for improving balance and motor skills in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. The technique is growing, so long-term follow-up and further research are needed to determine its exact place in the management of cerebral palsy.

Finally, some studies say that although combining virtual reality rehabilitation with conventional therapy may improve cognitive and motor outcomes, the evidence is still somewhat limited, as the one entitled Effectiveness of virtual reality in children and young adults with cerebral palsy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

Despite the discussion above, the latest study explicitly states that there is no adverse effect from the use of virtual reality for neurorehabilitative treatment. Likewise, it is important to note that virtual reality in the rehabilitation of children under 18 should be supervised and directed by trained health professionals, such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, or speech therapists. In addition, the individual needs of each patient should be taken into account to ensure that the technology is appropriate for their age and health status.

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