UPC and Guttmann Institute develop VR rehabilitation programme

A three-dimensional space has been designed to help people with cognitive deficits caused by brain damage improve their functional capacity in daily life activities.

The Guttmann Institute, the Biomedical Engineering Research Center (CREB), the Department of Software of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) with the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) and other science and technology partners, are working on a tele-rehabilitation programme for treating people with cognitive deficits caused by brain damage.

The Guttmann Institute, a university institute attached to the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), has been developing a clinical research programme over the last five years. Now, with the collaboration of the Generalitat’s Ministry of Universities, Research and the Information Society and Health Department, it has created the Cognitive Rehabilitation Platform (PREVIRNEC) to treat cognitive sequelae associated with brain damage.

The PREVIRNEC platform enables therapists to personalise treatment plans: intensive rehabilitation can be programmed automatically for the required length of time, the results monitored and the level of difficulty adjusted according to patients’ performance in previous sessions.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers is currently working on the project. The project’s leader is Dr Teresa Roig Rovira, head of the Neuropsychology Unit at the Institute The UPC’s CREB, coordinated by lecturer Daniela Tost, is in charge of 3D software, the Guttmann Institute, a benchmark in neurorehabilitation, contributes neuropsychological and therapeutic knowledge, and a group from the Rovira i Virgili University is responsible for distributed software.
The aim of this project is to use software to meet the treatment needs of patients with acquired brain damage. The software promotes the rehabilitation of affected cognitive functions by representing everyday, real life situations in a virtual world.
All of the software that has been designed has two applications. It offers patients a three-dimensional IT platform on which to carry out their cognitive rehabilitation exercises. In addition, it provides a web interface for the therapist, through which different exercises can be programmed for each individual, their performance monitored, their progress assessed and their rehabilitation treatment plan adapted, if required.
Currently, the main limitation of conventional cognitive rehabilitation is the difference between the types of activities used in therapeutic sessions and the real difficulties that patients face after treatment. The introduction of virtual reality applications helps to reduce this gap between clinical practice and everyday life.
In this innovative proposal, the contribution of the UPC’s Computer Science in Engineering Group (GIE) involves developing virtual realities of everyday spaces, for example the kitchen, in which the patient has to carry out several tasks, such as putting things away in the fridge or preparing a salad. These kinds of tasks, which are difficult to simulate in a clinical setting, can help patients to work on their ability to plan, sequence, categorise or use their memory.
The flexibility and adaptability of this computer technology means that it can be used in the rehabilitation of other types of patients who also require cognitive treatment to improve their quality of life.
The project is ongoing and the following have been incorporated: new technology partners, such as the Biomedical Engineering and Telemedicine Center (GBT) of the Technical University of Madrid; knowledge in the field of neurosciences, provided by the Catalan Institute of Aging (FICE); the UAB, in the form of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group; and the recognition and drive of ICT industries, represented by ICA and Vodafone, as the result of a research, development and innovation grant that was awarded through the AVANZA programme.

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