A feasibility study with subacute stroke patients with mild cognitive impairment
Virtual Reality applications for integrated cognitive and motor stroke rehabilitation show promise for providing more comprehensive rehabilitation programs. However, we are still missing evidence on its impact in comparison with standard rehabilitation, particularly in patients with cognitive impairment. Additionally, little is known on how specific stimuli in the virtual environment affect task performance and its consequence on recovery. Here we investigate the impact in stroke recovery of a virtual cognitive-motor task customized with positive stimuli, in comparison to standard rehabilitation. The positive stimuli were images based on individual preferences, and self-selected music (half of the sessions). 13 participants in the subacute stage of stroke, with cognitive and motor deficits, were allocated to one of two groups (VR, Control). Motor and cognitive outcomes were assessed at end of treatment (4-6 weeks) and at a 4-week followup. Both groups showed significant improvements over time in functional ability during task performance, but without changes in motor impairment. Cognitive outcomes were modest in both groups. For participants in the VR group, the score in the task was significantly higher in sessions with music. There were no statistical differences between groups at end of treatment and follow-up. The impact of VR therapy was lower than in similar studies with stroke patients without cognitive deficits. This study is a first step towards understanding how VR could be shaped to address the particular needs of this population.