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How virtual reality can help to treat children with a brain injury

I am a solicitor in the Child Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  I act for children who have an acquired brain injury through an accident or medical negligence.  My role is to fight for compensation for the injured child to ensure, as far as possible, they are put back into the position they would have been in had they not been injured.  An important part of my role, therefore, is to set up an effective rehabilitation and support package for the child as soon as possible because early intervention is key to ensuring the best possible outcome for the child post injury.  With this in mind, I am always interested to learn about innovative types of rehabilitation which are available for children who suffer brain injuries and which might be beneficial to our clients.

Rehabilitation offered to children with a brain injury

Following a traumatic brain injury, children may experience a number of symptoms which are evident within the first hours, other symptoms may take longer to appear.  For some children, these symptoms are short lived but for others they continue and rehabilitation will be required to help improve or manage these symptoms.  Symptoms may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Loss of coordination
  • Changes to memory, learning or reasoning
  • Difficulties with problem solving
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Drowsiness
  • Change in mood
  • Change in ability to pay attention
  • Change in behaviour
  • Headaches
  • Changes to senses such as taste or smell
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

When a child sustains a brain injury, they may need support and rehabilitation from specialist professionals in areas such as occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, assistive technology or nursing care.  This is incredibly important to help a child with a brain injury to manage or improve their physical, emotional or behavioural changes which can result from a brain injury.  They can also help to explain and manage the difficulties following an acquired brain injury in every day functioning for the child.  Charities such as The Child Brain Injury Trust work with children from birth to the age of 25 with an acquired brain injury to provide emotional and practical support at any stage following a child’s injury.  They can even provide information, support and training to anyone affected, including the child or young person, their family or the professionals who support them.

Research into virtual reality for rehabilitation

A team of researchers in Estonia have recently published their study on the use of virtual reality for children with an acquired brain injury.  The research team used a specialised computer programme so that rehabilitation could focus on helping children’s attention and visuospatial skills.  A further programme was also made to focus on social rehabilitation.  According to the researchers, the software allowed the children to improve their social skills through role-play within a virtual environment.

The study focused in particular on children with a diagnosis of epilepsy, traumatic brain injury or tic disorders.  For the research team in Estonia however, they focused on whether the use of a computer-based environment and virtual reality could also become a form of rehabilitation.

According to Ms Saard, one of the researchers from the study, this form of rehabilitation is “engaging and safe for children, and allows them to practice the skills they need, from attention, space, awareness and memory”.  Whilst the positive effects of neurorehabilitation are now well known, the concept of using virtual reality to help children is still relatively new.

It is exciting to see the positive results of this study, with the researchers confirming the effectiveness of using virtual reality after ten sessions with the children.  They reported improvements in attention and special awareness.  A follow up session over a year later, showed that the children had also improved on their social communication.

The parents of children who took part in the study also reported very positive results.  They explained that the skills acquired through the training have carried over to every-day life and they have seen improvements in their child’s academic performance and behaviour.  They also reported that their child was more willing to take part in computer-based rehabilitation following the study.

Whilst this was only a small study involving 59 children, the results are very positive.  There are also other recent studies into VR which also conclude that this can have a positive outcome on a child’s mobility or social skills.

Whilst I have found these studies into VR for rehabilitation, there is little in the way of information about this being introduced outside of a test environment.  I am hopeful however that in the near future, the positive results from these studies will encourage VR rehabilitation, particularly as VR equipment becomes cheaper and more accessible.  I would like to see this being used in the future with our clients, providing a fun and alternative form of rehabilitation.

Josephine Clucas is a solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Child Brain Injury claims.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Josephine free of charge and in confidence at josephineclucas@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Child Brain Injury team.

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