ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Portable virtual reality system helps brain-injured patients with recovery

At Sheba Medical Center, occupational therapists find that war-wounded soldiers like XRHealth’s game-like headsets and specialized software

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

  • Occupational Therapist Chen Ben Dan demonstrates the XRHealth therapeutic virtual reality system, Sheba Medical Center, December 28, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)
    Occupational Therapist Chen Ben Dan demonstrates the XRHealth therapeutic virtual reality system, Sheba Medical Center, December 28, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)
  • Example of how a patient performs occupational therapy while wearing XRHealth's virtual reality equipment. (Courtesy of XRHealth)
    Example of how a patient performs occupational therapy while wearing XRHealth's virtual reality equipment. (Courtesy of XRHealth)
  • Example of what a user of XRHealth sees as it uses its therapeutic virtual reality technology. (Courtesy of XRHealth)
    Example of what a user of XRHealth sees as it uses its therapeutic virtual reality technology. (Courtesy of XRHealth)

Occupational therapist Chen Ben Dan wears a hi-tech set of goggles and holds game controllers. It looks like she is playing a video game, but what she is doing is demonstrating how virtual reality (VR) is used at Sheba Medical Center’s rehabilitation hospital to help patients recover from brain injury.

Sheba is working with XRHealth, an Israeli therapeutic VR and augmented reality (AR) startup to provide this engaging approach to its patients. XRHealth is associated with ARC Innovation, Sheba’s global network, to transform healthcare for the future.

“We are not just playing with tech. We really understand it and know how and when to use it,” said Ravid Segal, chief technology officer of ARC Innovation’s XR hub. (XR stands for extended reality, which includes both VR and AR.)

The XRHealth VR system can be used in the hospital or at home under remote medical supervision to improve cognitive and motor skills.

To use the portable, compact system, occupational therapist Ben Dan just brings the special headset, hand controls, and a laptop computer programmed with proprietary software to a patient’s room. Alternatively, a patient can meet her anywhere in the brain injury ward at the rehabilitation hospital and work with the system there.

“This game-like approach creates more motivation for the patient and is especially good for young people who have grown up playing video games,” Ben Dan said.

Occupational Therapist Chen Ben Dan holds up the XRHealth therapeutic virtual reality system, Sheba Medical Center, December 28, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)

“I’ve noticed that the soldiers recovering in our department like it a lot,” she said.

Ben Dan called the XRHealth system “another technological tool we have to help in our work.”

When it comes to brain-injured individuals, this involves improving memory, attention and balance. Ben Dan also works with her patients on reining in lack of inhibition and impulsivity, which are common side effects of brain damage.

While Ben Dan uses the system with patients with brain damage, it can also be used for occupational therapy for all different types of rehabilitation.

Example of what a user of XRHealth sees as it uses its therapeutic virtual reality technology. (Courtesy of XRHealth)

“The VR activities are all specifically rehabilitation oriented, and just like with a regular computer game, the difficulty is raised each time the patient achieves a certain level,” Ben Dan explained.

While visiting Sheba, this reporter tried out the system and had so much fun reaching out with the controllers to pop VR color-coded balloons, that she didn’t realize that she was actually extending her arms and strengthening her muscles.

According to Maya Ehrlich, director of XR programs at ARC Innovation, XRHealth donated 10 of its headsets to Sheba’s rehabilitation hospital since the beginning of the war. These are used for a different purpose with the patients.

Example of what a user of XRHealth sees as it uses its therapeutic virtual reality technology. (Courtesy of XRHealth)

“Technicians and volunteers walk through the departments and ask patients if they want to use the systems to view relaxing scenes to reduce their stress or pain,” Ehrlich said.

“Some patients find this really helpful. We are studying the effects of this, as well as how the system could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

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