Written by: Stuart Foxman
Alex Theodorou isn’t a doctor or a therapist, but he thinks he has insight into what can help many patients recover. “We all have an inherent love of play and games,” he says.
Theodorou is the founder and CEO of Ocutherapy (ocutherapy.com). His Toronto company uses virtual reality (VR) headsets to offer immersive and guided experiences to people with cognitive impairments. That can include people who’ve had a traumatic brain injury, who’ve experienced a stroke or who are dealing with the effects of the aging brain.
Users can engage in interactive cognitive exercises. These are therapeutic tasks that focus on what matters to patients and their recovery targets. That creates goal-oriented and personalized experiences. Ocutherapy enables individual cognitive profiles, so that treatments can be tailored based on performance.
The idea is to bridge the gap between game and therapy. “The more we can close that gap,” says Theodorou, “the more effective the delivery of care. It no longer feels like therapy.”
He says Ocutherapy is about “rehabilitation right before your eyes”.
Ocutherapy is in the beta stage, and will initially be marketed as a business-to-business offering for clinics and hospitals. Eventually, Theodorou sees the potential for home use.
He has received positive feedback from physiotherapists and occupation therapists, who tell him that Ocutherapy aligns with the skills they’re trying to develop with patients. Direct therapy from them and VR-guided therapy can go hand in hand, says Theodorou: “We’re trying to enhance the experience.”
After studying psychology and linguistics at York University, Theodorou worked as a rehabilitation therapist at the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario. He returned to school in 2014 to pursue a graduate degree at McMaster University in the cognitive science of language. His thesis explored recovery among individuals with brain injuries.
Most recently, Theodorou worked as a clinical research assistant at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, in the mood and anxiety disorders centre. He left that job in July 2018 to devote his attention full time to Ocutherapy, which he had conceived two years earlier. The company also includes a creative director, a researcher and a VR technology specialist.
Ocutherapy is one of three finalists in York University’s LaunchYU accelerator program. (The winner will be announced in early 2019.) The four-month program supports promising entrepreneurs as they develop and scale their enterprises.
In addition to that opportunity, Theodorou says he and Ocutherapy have received a boost from Innovation York (advisors and mentors), ventureLAB (business strategy), and a National Research Council grant (connections with industry leaders).
He says Ocutherapy brings together his passions for neuroscience and innovation in health care, with the goal of helping patients get better faster.
While his academic interests and professional background helped him to launch his company, Theodorou was also influenced by personal experience. Ten years ago, his father had a stroke. He learned a lot from watching his father’s efforts to recover, and has seen other patients struggle too.
With his knowledge of these ongoing challenges, as both a caregiver and a researcher, Theodorou aims to create a patient-centred and connected rehab experience – one that motivates people throughout their recovery journey.
“I wanted to understand how to improve the quality of care for others, and use emerging technology to add value to people’s lives,” says Theodorou. “We borrow from the best practices of clinical care and make them more fun.”
Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real