In a unique approach to rehabilitation services, Professor Kazumichi Matsumiya from Tohoku University in Japan has developed a new method using virtual reality (VR) to help individuals with motor dysfunctions. Through the use of VR, the researcher was able to increase bodily awareness and improve motor control in rehabilitation and sports training.
The research was published in Scientific Reports.
Agency and Ownership
The new research was based on two senses: agency and ownership. We humans are aware of our bodies thanks to our brain processing information sent from the body. This helps our brain determine, in real-time, where our limbs are located. This entire process is referred to as ownership of the body.
On the other hand, we are also able to voluntarily control the movement and actions of our body parts, which is referred to as having agency over our body.
Both of these senses are crucial to motor control, but researchers have struggled with separating our sense of body ownership from our sense of agency. Because of these challenges, there has been no strong confirmation that both ownership and agency play a big role in motor control.
Professor Matsumiya comes from the Graduate School of Information Sciences at Tohoku University. He was able to overcome some of these challenges and isolate the two senses with VR.
In the research, Matsumiya independently measured each participant’s sense of body ownership and agency over a computer-generated hand as they viewed it.
“I found that motor control is improved when participants experienced a sense of agency over the artificial body, regardless of their sense of body ownership,” said Matsumiya. “Our findings suggest that artificial manipulation of agency will enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation and aid sports training techniques to improve overall motor control.”
Implications in Japan
This research is especially important to Japan, as the nation’s society is rapidly aging. It is considered the oldest society in the world, with 28.7% of the population aged 65 or older. According to current statistics, people aged 65 and over will make up a third of the population by 2036
With an aging society comes patients who suffer from motor dysfunctions. These individuals benefit greatly from rehabilitation services based on modern technologies involving VR and artificial intelligence (AI).
Along with the new development regarding VR, AI has already been playing a crucial role in advancing rehabilitation services. Some major recent developments in the field include an AI-based hand gesture recognition system and a new approach to developing thought-controlled electronic prostheses.