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Open Access Research

Virtual reality in neurologic rehabilitation of spatial disorientation

Silvia Erika Kober1*, Guilherme Wood1, Daniela Hofer1, Walter Kreuzig2, Manfred Kiefer2 and Christa Neuper13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Universitaetsplatz 2/III, 8010, Graz, Austria

2 Privatclinic Lassnitzhoehe, Lassnitzhoehe, Austria

3 Laboratory of Brain-Computer Interfaces, Institute for Knowledge Discovery, Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2013, 10:17  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-10-17

Published: 8 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Topographical disorientation (TD) is a severe and persistent impairment of spatial orientation and navigation in familiar as well as new environments and a common consequence of brain damage. Virtual reality (VR) provides a new tool for the assessment and rehabilitation of TD. In VR training programs different degrees of active motor control over navigation may be implemented (i.e. more passive spatial navigation vs. more active). Increasing demands of active motor control may overload those visuo-spatial resources necessary for learning spatial orientation and navigation. In the present study we used a VR-based verbally-guided passive navigation training program to improve general spatial abilities in neurologic patients with spatial disorientation.

Methods

Eleven neurologic patients with focal brain lesions, which showed deficits in spatial orientation, as well as 11 neurologic healthy controls performed a route finding training in a virtual environment. Participants learned and recalled different routes for navigation in a virtual city over five training sessions. Before and after VR training, general spatial abilities were assessed with standardized neuropsychological tests.

Results

Route finding ability in the VR task increased over the five training sessions. Moreover, both groups improved different aspects of spatial abilities after VR training in comparison to the spatial performance before VR training.

Conclusions

Verbally-guided passive navigation training in VR enhances general spatial cognition in neurologic patients with spatial disorientation as well as in healthy controls and can therefore be useful in the rehabilitation of spatial deficits associated with TD.

Keywords:
Topographical disorientation; Brain damage; Way-finding training; Virtual rehabilitation; Visuo-spatial memory; Visual navigation