Background: Virtual reality and interactive video gaming have emerged as recent treatment approaches in stroke rehabilitation with commercial gaming consoles in particular, being rapidly adopted in clinical settings. This is an update of a Cochrane Review published first in 2011 and then again in 2015.
Objectives: Primary objective: to determine the efficacy of virtual reality compared with an alternative intervention or no intervention on upper limb function and activity.Secondary objectives: to determine the efficacy of virtual reality compared with an alternative intervention or no intervention on: gait and balance, global motor function, cognitive function, activity limitation, participation restriction, quality of life, and adverse events.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (April 2017), CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and seven additional databases. We also searched trials registries and reference lists.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of virtual reality ("an advanced form of human-computer interface that allows the user to 'interact' with and become 'immersed' in a computer-generated environment in a naturalistic fashion") in adults after stroke. The primary outcome of interest was upper limb function and activity. Secondary outcomes included gait and balance and global motor function.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected trials based on pre-defined inclusion criteria, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A third review author moderated disagreements when required. The review authors contacted investigators to obtain missing information.
Main results: We included 72 trials that involved 2470 participants. This review includes 35 new studies in addition to the studies included in the previous version of this review. Study sample sizes were generally small and interventions varied in terms of both the goals of treatment and the virtual reality devices used. The risk of bias present in many studies was unclear due to poor reporting. Thus, while there are a large number of randomised controlled trials, the evidence remains mostly low quality when rated using the GRADE system. Control groups usually received no intervention or therapy based on a standard-care approach.
Primary outcome: results were not statistically significant for upper limb function (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.07, 95% confidence intervals (CI) -0.05 to 0.20, 22 studies, 1038 participants, low-quality evidence) when comparing virtual reality to conventional therapy. However, when virtual reality was used in addition to usual care (providing a higher dose of therapy for those in the intervention group) there was a statistically significant difference between groups (SMD 0.49, 0.21 to 0.77, 10 studies, 210 participants, low-quality evidence).
Secondary outcomes: when compared to conventional therapy approaches there were no statistically significant effects for gait speed or balance. Results were statistically significant for the activities of daily living (ADL) outcome (SMD 0.25, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.43, 10 studies, 466 participants, moderate-quality evidence); however, we were unable to pool results for cognitive function, participation restriction, or quality of life. Twenty-three studies reported that they monitored for adverse events; across these studies there were few adverse events and those reported were relatively mild.
Authors' conclusions: We found evidence that the use of virtual reality and interactive video gaming was not more beneficial than conventional therapy approaches in improving upper limb function. Virtual reality may be beneficial in improving upper limb function and activities of daily living function when used as an adjunct to usual care (to increase overall therapy time). There was insufficient evidence to reach conclusions about the effect of virtual reality and interactive video gaming on gait speed, balance, participation, or quality of life. This review found that time since onset of stroke, severity of impairment, and the type of device (commercial or customised) were not strong influencers of outcome. There was a trend suggesting that higher dose (more than 15 hours of total intervention) was preferable as were customised virtual reality programs; however, these findings were not statistically significant.