Community Meeting Recap: Ocutherapy with Alex Theodorou

BY: JULIA RENAUD

BIST’s August Community Meeting was an Ocutherapy demonstration with Alex Theodorou.

Picture of Community Meeting Speaker Alex Theodorou, Founder & CEO of Ocutherapy.
Alex Theodorou

 About Alex

  • Alex’s father sustained a stroke in 2005, changing the lives of him and his family forever.
  • This event lead Alex to pursue a master’s degree in neurolinguistics from McMaster University. He wanted to find a way to improve the lives of people living with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and other cognitive difficulties.
  • In 2016, Alex came up with the idea of Ocutherapy, a Toronto-based Virtual Reality (VR) program aimed at improving speed of recovery for individuals in post-acute care rehabilitation programs. The company was launched in 2018 and its momentum is strong.

Ocutherapy uses virtual reality to bring together patient and practitioner to inspire, motivate, and educate in the recovery journey. [It] offer[s] interactive experiences that make the healing process both engaging and intuitive.

 Health care and brain injury

  • ABI is one of the most common neurological conditions.
  • Treating ABI can be costly to the health care system and patients may receive limited treatment.
  • Limited care, high drop-out rates, and potential for re-injury can leave patients feeling defeated.

Clip art of a person in a science lab, with seekers, computers and lab equipment

 Features of Ocutherapy:

Patient-centered

  • The program learns from the user to determine the level of difficulty.
  • It tailors its exercises to help train the areas of the brain and skills that are most important to each individual.
  • A check-in is included at the end of each game to get feedback about how the user felt the game went.

Utilizes a connected rehabilitation approach.

  • Data can be easily accessed by health-care workers to better track the progress of each patient.

Beneficial and fun!

  • There are different tasks involved with each game allowing the individual to stave off boredom while focusing on key areas of the brain.
  • Works on fine motor movements and can enhance quality of life.

Accessible

  • The virtual reality headset and controller make Ocutherapy portable, improving access to care.
  • The headset can be worn with or without glasses.
  • The headset also utilizes bone conduction technology. This permits the user to hear the sound without having their ears covered and, if you aren’t the wearer, you don’t hear any of the sound at all, which is very cool!

Intuitive

  • Since Ocutherapy throws away the traditional method of therapy*, it learns from the user and adapts the program accordingly all while tracking progress.

*For me this involved the wall clock, laser and stick pointers, tones of papers and tape everywhere to name only a few. Also, if I never had to see the letter ‘A’ again, I would be completely fine with that!

Who could benefit from Ocutherapy?:

  • Ocutherapy aims to improve speed of recovery for individuals in post acute care rehabilitation programs.
  • Benefiting individuals include those who have experienced or continue to experience effects from:
      • ABI
      • Neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s)
      • Aging
  • Ocutherapy may aid with memory, attention, spacial orientation, brain fog, and mood, to name a few.
  • Due to the nature of the VR device, Ocutherapy may not be ideal for individuals with:
      • Visual impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses.
      • Motor impairment affecting the hands.

Why haven’t I heard about Ocutherapy before?

  • Ocutherapy is in its early stages and is in the midst of being trialed and tweaked.
  • Early testing has been conducted; however, Alex and his team continue to adapt the program, improving its accessibility, technology, and ease of use.

Want more info about Ocutherapy?

  • Check out the official website: www.ocutherapy.com where you can meet the team, read articles about Ocutherapy and watch Alex’s Tedx Talk.
  • Have any ideas, suggestions, or questions? Alex and his team would love to hear from you!

Julia Renaud is a ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. She is an advocate within the health care community and has been featured in the coffee table book, A Caged Mind by May Mutter, which exposes the nature of concussions through body painting.

 

 

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The future is now: virtual reality as a potential new therapy for brain injury

BY: ALISON

The worlds of brain injury rehabilitation and Virtual reality (VR) are coming closer together.

The technology for VR is advancing very quickly, including multi-player games and the development of devices that involve your entire body to create highly realistic virtual experiences (e.g. driving or flight simulations). Toronto has a VR arcade, Ctrl V, that uses top of the line equipment and offers over 52 different VR games.

Ocutherapy is a new company that is developing VR games tailored for people with brain injuries. The hope is that the games will help brain injury survivors practice certain skills including memory, speed, fluid cognitive abilities and coordination, etc.

women wearing Virtual Reality Device
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

The software will track your performance over time. The Ocutherapy games will have simple 3-D graphics and will require minimal VR equipment. The games will be compatible with most of the industry leading VR hardware (head sets and controllers). If you own a Chromecast device and have access to WiFi, then you could display what the player is seeing in the headset onto a WiFi enabled TV or computer monitor, so someone else could watch and help the player figure out the game as needed. Ocutherapy is still in development and is not yet available for sale. Although you will eventually be able to buy the system for yourself (likely before the end of 2019), the company is also working on getting their product into some occupational and physiotherapy offices.

Much like in real life, when you’re playing, you can only see the part of the virtual environment that’s directly infront of you. So, if you’re standing in the middle of a room in the game, you have to turn your head (or your entire body) to see the rest of the room. The controller can sense your spatial presence and hand and arm motions and allows you to interact with the VR environment. You click on buttons to select options, move forward, and pick things up and move them around, etc.

VR has never been formally used as a rehabilitation aid before, so they can’t predict if it will be right for your condition.

Here’s an example of what it’s like to play one of Ocutherapy’s task-oriented games. You start off feeling like you’re standing in the middle of a room. Using the controller, you navigate through hallways and stairs to enter a kitchen. Then you ‘stand’ in front of a counter to make sandwiches based on specific instructions (e.g. four  four slices of cheese, three slices of tomato and three slices of lettuce). Part of the challenge is in having to remember the details of the instructions as you complete the task. You use the controller to simulate picking up a knife and slicing cheese before picking up the cheese slices and placing them on a slice of bread. Then you finish making the sandwich by adding the remaining ingredients and another slice of bread.

If you are interested in trying the games for yourself, Ocutherapy will be offering a demonstration at the BIST Community Meeting on August 28, 2019. Find out more, HERE

I tried Ocutherapy for one session and here are my personal thoughts about the experience (note: I am not a health care professional):

  • The advantages of using VR include:
    • A fun and interesting experience
    • Something new to try
    • The opportunity to learn how to use new technology
    • The ability to practice certain skills in the comfort of your own home
    • Fewer distractions while you’re completing the virtual tasks
    • The headset and controller can be used to play VR games produced by other companies as well
  • Disadvantages of using VR include:
    • The head set felt a little bit heavy for me, so I wouldn’t recommend VR if you have whiplash or if neck strain could exacerbate your symptoms
    • If you are sensitive to light and electronic devices, then VR will be difficult to use, because the screen is electronic and close to your eyes
    • VR can make even perfectly healthy people feel nauseous. I felt nauseous after just a few minutes of playing Ocutherapy, but my most recent brain injury was less than four months prior to that
    • Using VR as a rehabilitation aid for brain injuries is a brand new approach, so there isn’t enough research available to know if it will actually improve the skills in real-life application.

The more advanced the technology, the more real the simulation feels. At a minimum, you must wear a headset and use a hand-held controller. The headset is designed to block your peripheral vision so the only thing that you can see is a small screen placed a few inches away from your eyes.

Learn more about Occutherapy at our August Community Meeting

August 28, 2019, 6-8 pm 

Find out more, HERE

Sign up for the VR Study, HERE


‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other health problems). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.