Virtual reality after stroke: Identifying important characteristics when designing experiences to improve engagement in upper limb rehabilitation

Stephen Isbel, Helen Holloway, Craig Greber, Kelly Nguyen, Jane Frost, Claire Pearce, Nathan M D'Cunha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Virtual reality (VR) has been used to improve upper limb function after stroke but there is little to guide product developers in building experiences that engage users in the sustained, repetitive training required. This research sought to understand the characteristics of VR scenarios best suited to engaging someone with a stroke during recovery to achieve therapeutic outcomes.

METHODS: Five creative immersive VR scenarios were designed by an experienced VR content creator containing unique combinations of VR characteristics. The usefulness of the scenarios was reviewed by expert clinicians experienced in stroke rehabilitation. Following this review, seven stroke survivors participated in each experience and reported on their engagement and motivation. Outcome measures were the User Satisfaction Evaluation Questionnaire and the modified Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five participants following their immersive VR experience and analysed thematically.

RESULTS: Expert clinicians reported potential therapeutic value in the immersive VR scenarios by providing opportunities for repeated and graded practice of upper limb movements. Stroke survivors reported varied levels of enjoyment and engagement for each scenario. They recommended changes to the experiences, primarily relating to the tailoring of the scenarios to match varied upper limb capacities.

CONCLUSION: This study highlights the characteristics of immersive VR scenarios that are important in sustaining motivation and providing high-repetition task-specific movement experiences. Differences in the experience and preferences of stroke participants regarding the characteristics of immersive VR experiences indicate that a variety of experiences are necessary to engage and sustain participation in an immersive VR-related therapy programme.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalDigital Health
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 May 2024


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