Immersive Virtual Reality to Improve Outcomes in Veterans With Stroke: Protocol for a Single-Arm Pilot Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2021 May 10;10(5):e26133. doi: 10.2196/26133.


Background: Over the last decade, virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a cutting-edge technology in stroke rehabilitation. VR is defined as a type of computer-user interface that implements real-time simulation of an activity or environment allowing user interaction via multiple sensory modalities. In a stroke population, VR interventions have been shown to enhance motor, cognitive, and psychological recovery when utilized as a rehabilitation adjunct. VR has also demonstrated noninferiority to usual care therapies for stroke rehabilitation.

Objective: The proposed pilot study aims to (1) determine the feasibility and tolerability of using a therapeutic VR platform in an inpatient comprehensive stroke rehabilitation program and (2) estimate the initial clinical efficacy (effect size) associated with the VR platform using apps for pain distraction and upper extremity exercise for poststroke neurologic recovery.

Methods: This study will be conducted in the Comprehensive Integrated Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at the James A Haley Veterans' Hospital. Qualitative interviews will be conducted with 10 clinical staff members to assess the feasibility of the VR platform from the clinician perspective. A prospective within-subject pretest-posttest pilot design will be used to examine the tolerability of the VR platform and the clinical outcomes (ie, upper extremity neurologic recovery, hand dexterity, pain severity) in 10 veteran inpatients. A VR platform consisting of commercially available pain distraction and upper extremity apps will be available at the participants' bedside for daily use during their inpatient stay (approximately 4-6 weeks). Clinician interviews will be analyzed using qualitative descriptive analysis. Cohen d effect sizes with corresponding 95% CIs will be calculated for upper extremity neurologic recovery, hand dexterity, and pain. The proportion of participants who achieve minimal clinically important difference after using the VR platform will be calculated for each clinical outcome.

Results: This study was selected for funding in August 2020. Institutional review board approval was received in October 2020. The project start date was December 2020. The United States Department has issued a moratorium on in-person research activities secondary to COVID-19. Data collection will commence once this moratorium is lifted.

Conclusions: Our next step is to conduct a large multi-site clinical trial that will incorporate the lessons learned from this pilot feasibility study to test the efficacy of a VR intervention in inpatient rehabilitation and transition to home environments. When VR is used in patients' rooms, it serves to provide additional therapy and may reduce clinician burden. VR also presents an opportunity similar to home-based practice exercises. VR can be implemented in both clinical settings and people's own homes, where engagement in ongoing self-management approaches is often most challenging. This unique experience offers the potential for seamless transition from inpatient rehabilitation to the home.

International registered report identifier (irrid): PRR1-10.2196/26133.

Keywords: feasibility; immersive virtual reality; pilot; recovery; stroke; upper extremity; veterans; veterans affairs.