CAREN helps patients to overcome balance disorders with Virtual Reality

In Europe, there currently exist no standard rehabilitation and exercise methods for diagnostic and corrective treatment of balance disorder. Some 40 European clinics have a specialized therapeutic programme, based on cause related classification of balance disorders, but there is no network communicative protocol available to exchange medical experiences on used equipment and procedures. In addition, progress assessment is performed visually, since generic tools are lacking to accurately measure the patient's balance behaviour. This has inspired the Dutch TTN (Technology Transfer Nodes) to develop CAREN, an interactive Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment. This real time virtual reality applied tool-platform will allow the medical expert to monitor the actual patient's behaviour side by side with the perceived successful behaviour after rehabilitation, and to correct all deviations from optimum.

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In Europe, there currently exist no standard rehabilitation and exercise methods for diagnostic and corrective treatment of balance disorder. Some 40 European clinics have a specialized therapeutic programme, based on cause related classification of balance disorders, but there is no network communicative protocol available to exchange medical experiences on used equipment and procedures. In addition, progress assessment is performed visually, since generic tools are lacking to accurately measure the patient's balance behaviour. This has inspired the Dutch TTN (Technology Transfer Nodes) to develop CAREN, an interactive Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment. This real time virtual reality applied tool-platform will allow the medical expert to monitor the actual patient's behaviour side by side with the perceived successful behaviour after rehabilitation, and to correct all deviations from optimum.

Among the partners involved in the CAREN initiative are the Motek Motion Technology company, a designer of real time applications, and three medical facilities in Amsterdam, namely the Academic Medical Centre (AMC), the Centre for Orthopaedic Therapy (COT), and the Rehabilitation Centre (RCA), which are participating in this 18 month project as potential end-users. Since the beginning of this year, the team is working together to build and evaluate the rehabilitation demonstrator, composed of a viewing environment, a 3D customized toolkit for the generation and manipulation of virtual characters, and a self learning multi-threaded parallel algorithm for the integration of motion-capture data. The multi-CPU (Central Processing Unit) hardware platform OCTANE 2x250Mhz R10K with Dual head option and personal video option, has been provided by Silicon Graphics Medical Division.

The CAREN platform will be applied in areas of physiotherapy, orthopaedics, neurology, early diagnostics of Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson and balance or coordination disorders. The equipment enables the patient to play a major part in the rehabilitation process because the user experiences a sensation of full immersion in the virtual environment. In turn, the therapist through a user-interface can introduce dynamic corrections of the patient's virtual and physical realities, thus establishing an interactive relationship with the patient, which will substantially reduce the rehabilitation time. The CAREN team is developing a varied range of virtual scenes and tasks, tailored to fit patient-specific rehabilitation paths.

The virtual exercises relate to situations in which 3D objects are displayed in real time speed while their position and orientation have to be traced by the patient suffering from balance or coordination disorder. The researchers have modified two elements in the initial CAREN concept. For user-friendly reasons, the head mount display (HMD) has been replaced by a large screen stereo projection to offer the patient complete freedom of movement. Second, the partners decided to design a new hydraulic motion platform with a 25 Hz capacity to provide real time response. Perfect parallel calibration of both Optical and Magnetic Motion Capture System (OMC and MMC) elements has equally been taken care of.

The partners will select four pairs of testpersons for a first try-out of the CAREN demonstrator. Each pair will be composed of a healthy person and a patient with balance disorder but the individuals have to correspond to one another in weight, posture, age and other medical relevant data. This will enable the CAREN team to assess the performance of the HPCN configuration for both interactive viewing and immediate correction of the patient's rehabilitation process. In any case, CAREN already displays promising qualities for application in various other industrial areas such as ergonomics, architecture, engineering, automotive, general training, communication, sports and entertainment. For a full and illustrated description of the project and the virtual exercises relating to the rehabilitation procedures for balance disorder, we refer to the CAREN Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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