BILLINGS — May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana in Billings is turning to virtual reality to help patients recover.
Patient Doug Harris is relearning what most people learned to do as children.
“You use your left side more than you think you would but it’s the walking, the lack of being able to walk is frustrating, but we’re getting there,” said Harris on Thursday.
Harris had a stroke on April 20 and is now unable to use the left side of his body. He’s been at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana for two weeks.
“I could do things now I couldn’t do two weeks ago,” said Harris.
He’s come a long way thanks to not only his therapists but also virtual reality.
“I think the intent is to be able to get me to view and focus on images and to be able to determine what they are. And the mechanics of what my brain is seeing versus what my body can do,” said Harris.
The hospital is the first in Montana to use VR to help stroke patients recover.
Harris played a scenario through VR where he was making sandwiches, an exercise that helps him regain lost motor skills.
“We can actually incorporate different challenges that incorporate those systems to help people regain their function and their independence,” said RHOM occupational therapist, Max Holden.
Rehab for stroke patients can involve grueling repetition. Virtual reality takes the patient’s mind off the work, making it more fun and interactive.
Harris also played a gardening scenario where he was “outside” on the beach.
“Well, with this scenario, it’s focusing more on the beach and the sound of the water which was relaxing,” said Harris.
Holden says patients really enjoy using VR.
“We just see a really high level of engagement from people when they’re working on it. It makes it fun for them and it makes it fun for us,” said Holden.
VR is just one part of their recovery. Patients at RHOM spend about three hours a day doing all sorts of interactive rehab.
The goal is to get them back on their feet, out of the virtual world and into the real world as soon as possible.
“It’s magic,” said Harris.