Virtual reality added to soldiers' rehab
Last Updated: Monday, April 19, 2010 | 10:00 AM ET
The Canadian Press
Wounded soldiers and injured civilians will soon be using technology reminiscent of the holodeck in old Star Trek movies to help regain their physical and mental confidence.
"In this case, reality is reflecting art," said Commodore Hans Jung, surgeon general for the Canadian Forces.
Jung was speaking at a funding announcement Sunday to bring a $1.5-million virtual reality simulator to Edmonton's Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.
People learning to use an artificial limb or recovering from a stroke will be able to walk, drive or even swim through a variety of virtual environments without leaving the safety of the hospital — almost like on the holodeck of the fictional Starship Enterprise.
CAREN — the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment — consists of a mobile platform, and a variety of video projectors and cameras.
Patients will stand on the platform, which moves according to what they're doing and what terrain they're moving through. Meanwhile, they are surrounded by images of whatever environment they've chosen.
Heals mental injuries
"It's very much like a 3-D game scenario, where you get into the environment," said Jung.
"The patient actually feels like they're in that environment. You can actually get completely immersed in your virtual environment to really push yourself."
Because the treatment takes place in hospital and not the outside world, it's much safer for patients still in recovery. It's also much easier for hospital staff to take someone to CAREN instead of the park.
Jung said the system will also help heal mental injuries as well.
"With [post-traumatic stress disorder], the therapy is often on reintroduction of the scenarios that caused it in the first place," he said.
"With this, you can virtually create the scenario that caused it in the first place — whether it's on the battlefield, a car accident — and gently re-introduce the individual. That's what allows a person to get back into their real life without the fear of constant flashbacks."
The simulator should greatly speed up recovery times, said Jung, who called it a "transformational" technology.
CAREN will also be available for civilians, who may use it for rehabilitation from everything from multiple sclerosis to strokes to concussions.
CAREN is already in use in several NATO countries, including the U.S., Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. A second CAREN unit will also be set up in Ottawa.
The simulator, paid for by a federal grant with $250,000 in development funding from Alberta, should be up an running at the Glenrose early next year. The Ottawa hospital is expected to be ready to go by the fall.
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