An augmented-reality racing game has given a 72-year-old amputee relief from phantom limb pain for the first time since 1965, Wired UK reports. The man was prone to waking up in the middle of the night in terrible pain due to the dissonance caused by his brain trying to control a limb that was no longer there, feeling as if his lost fist were constantly clenched tightly. But after six weeks of therapy with augmented reality, he now feels as if his phantom hand is relaxed and open.
After six weeks, he now feels as if his phantom hand is relaxed and open
The method is similar to mirror therapy, in which patients look at a reflection of an existing limb in order to trick the brain into thinking it is moving the lost limb, but uses augmented reality to project an image of the lost limb over the stump. Researcher Max Ortiz Catalan placed electrodes on the man's stump so he could control his phantom limb on a screen, then developed a racing game that allowed the patient to develop more nuanced movements. Past attempts to use video games to alleviate phantom limb pain have relied on motion tracking and virtual reality.
The experiment was such a relief to the patient that rather than ending the treatment in order to find out whether the pain would come back, Catalan decided to set up a home electrode system for his subject. He plans to continue working with the therapy, perhaps expanding it to patients with spinal injuries or locked-in syndrome.