Scholars are proposing a solution for rehabilitating people with disabilities through the metaverse.
Although the metaverse concept is yet to take shape fully, several researchers have already begun to propose a wide range of applications for innovation. Most recently, students from the School of Arts in the Department of Science and Humanities at the University of Sao Paulo revealed that they are studying a medical use case for the metaverse. Coordinated by Carlos Monteiro, Professor of Physical Education and Health, the group explores ways the metaverse can help rehabilitate people with disabilities.
In one of the recent studies published by the group, findings revealed that applying tasks in virtual reality via rehabilitation through telehealth helped improve the performance of patients living with cerebral palsy. The study also revealed that these tasks helped encourage patients to engage in physical activity, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group conducted the study in 2020, between March and June, and forty-four people participated. The analysis focused on rehabilitating people with cerebral palsies through telehealth using virtual reality solutions. Due to the worldwide lockdown resulting from the pandemic, it was impossible to carry out traditional therapy during that period.
Participants were guided through the recommended practices by a researcher working remotely and another physically present. One of the activities which the group developed was a game that involved catching colored balls. The patients were required to catch the balls as they fell by moving their bodies, and the machine’s camera was responsible for tracking and detecting their movements. Since people with cerebral palsy suffer from motor disorders, the primary objective of the game was to help improve patients’ motor performance.
The group evaluated different parameters, including patients’ tiredness, motor performance, motivation, and satisfaction. Muscle fatigue, cardio reactions, the correctness of participants’ answers, and how precise their movements were helped the group complete their evaluations.
Although game performance did not improve as desired, the participants received the game positively and hoped to continue using it in future restorative sessions. According to Monteiro, the people positively responded to continuing their rehabilitation in virtual environments.
While Monteiro and his study group performed research using the metaverse, they used a non-immersive variant of the concept, a version that does not require using VR glasses. The group’s metaverse solution only needed a computer or smartphone and a reliable internet connection. With these, participants could carry out their tasks, saving them the cost of building immersive metaverse environments or buying expensive virtual reality headsets and glasses.
Using a non-immersive version of the metaverse has more perks. It allows the therapist to attend to multiple patients simultaneously and enables the rapid adoption of this specific treatment. However, Monteiro believes that the metaverse does not seek to replace traditional rehabilitation procedures.
Presently, the group is expanding its studies to include people with other disabilities like Down Syndrome and people who are autistic. People living with autism had to interact with the metaverse using avatars, and the group recorded another positive reception of the platform. The study group will look to develop avatars further so that they can move in sync with the patients.